Indonesian Volcanic Activity Increases – Mount Gamalama.

February 19, 2012 – Mount Gamalama Volcano Comes Back to Life in the South-West Pacific in Indonesia: A major eruption at Mount Gamalama in North Maluku on Sunday night spewed volcanic ash 2,000 meters (6,560 feet) into the air and forced the closure of the airport in Ternate, the provincial capital.

Aviation officials said that because of the threat to aircraft from the ash cloud, the Babullah Airport at the foot of the volcano, which makes up the entire island, would be closed on Monday and perhaps today.

Bambang Ervan, a spokesman for the Transportation Ministry, said the closure was a precautionary measure. “The volcanic ash may pose a risk to planes,” he said. “If there are no more eruptions, the airport may be opened [today].”

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), said that despite the magnitude of the eruption, which blanketed Ternate in a thick layer of ash, the threat of danger to residents was still low.

He added that the alert level for the volcano, currently at 3 out of the maximum 4, would not be raised and there would be no evacuation ordered.

Sutopo said that some people living higher up on the volcano’s slopes had sought refuge at the former governor’s office on Sunday night, but most had returned to their homes by Monday.

Authorities are maintaining a 3.5-kilometer (2.2 miles) exclusion radius around the crater of the 1,715 meter (5,625 feet) volcano.

Officials have also set up temporary shelters and soup kitchens at the governor’s office, the mayor’s office, the local football stadium and several schools.

Jemi de Brivieng, the head of the local disaster mitigation agency (BPBD), said about 800 people, mostly women and children were staying at the shelters, although not because of the direct threat from an eruption.

He said the evacuees were those whose homes were located on the banks of the various rivers running down Mount Gamalama, adding that it was feared that ongoing heavy rains would wash the volcanic ash down the waterways and flood the homes.

Darmo Lamane, the head of the volcano’s monitoring post, said there were at least six major eruptions between Sunday night and Monday morning.

“The situation has calmed and many residents have gone back home,” he said. “We will continue to monitor the volcanic activity.”

The volcano last erupted in 2003, Darmo added, with no fatalities recorded. (Credits: Top Photo – EPA/NAPDI, Middle Photo – The Sun Daily, Narrative – the Jakarta Globe with Additional reporting from AFP and Antara)

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