Authorities are warning residents not to return to their villages on the slopes of Mount Sinabung yet for any reason, as the peak is still showing signs of heightened volcanic activity.
"The people should be aware of the worst case scenario — an eruption," Johnson Tarigan, the head of the media center for the mountain's disaster mitigation post in Kabanjahe, the district capital of Karo, North Sumatra. "The should not recklessly return to their homes yet in the current conditions."
His call came as many of the thousands who have been evacuated away from the 2,460-meter- mountain since it first erupted earlier this month continued to return to their village during the day time to check on their vacant homes. Johnson said that the villages were currentlybeing guarded by security personnel and that they should not worry about their houses or belongings.
"The emergency relief period has been extended to Jan. 18," he said. "The move was decided by the government because the volcano continues to be in active."
He advised that no people should come within five kilometers of the peak. He said also that besides lava, the mountain was spewing extremely hot clouds of ash.
Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the head of the National Disaster Mitigation Office's (BNPB) data and information center, said in a press release that the volcano was still erupting on Saturday. The release said that at least 30 eruptions were recorded, and that the ash column coming out of the volcano reached between two to four kilometers high.
“Hot lava spewed from the volcano some 60 times, reaching up to five kilometers [three miles] southeast of the crater. This outpour is the biggest we’ve seen in all the recent eruptions,” Nugroho said as quoted by AFP.
The Center for Volcanology and Geologic Disaster Mitigation (PVMBG) has reported that Sinabung's volcanic activity was still high and that the lava dome on top of it was continuously rising.
Two other villages on the slope of the mountain — Jerawa and Pintu Besi — have also been vacated. More than 20,000 people from 12 villages have been vacated from the mountain and given shelter in safer locations.
Referring to the eruption of Mount Merapi in 2010, when the danger zone around the volcano had to be gradually expanded, BNPB chief Syamsul Maarif said that authorities should prepare for similar measures in relation to Sinabung.