Residents displaced by Mount Kelud's explosive eruption began to return home over the weekend despite warnings from disaster officials that the risk of deadly cold lava flows remained high for communities in the shadow of the volcano.
The East Java Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB East Java) maintained the highest emergency level for the volcano — "Awas" — on Monday, warning that the situation on the mountain remained volatile. Recent downpours raised the threat of mudflows as rain water mixed with the heavy coating of ash on the slopes of the volcano, BNPB East Java official Agus told the local news portal Pikiran Rakyat on Sunday.
"The condition could change at any moment and that's why the Awas status has not been lifted," Agus told Pikiran Rakyat. "We have repeatedly called on evacuees to stay at their designed areas but many have returned home. Heavy rains could trigger floods of cold lava flows, especially around rivers which are now covered in sand. The pile of [volcanic] material is extremely unstable and it could flow down in huge volumes."
The Ministry of Public Works built 19 dams in anticipation of cold lava flows, but ministry officials were unsure if the structures would be enough to contain the floods. The ministry said it had also drafted backup plans should the dams fail.
"We still don't know how much [cold lava] will come out of the volcano," Mohammad Hasan, director general of water resources at the public works ministry, told the Indonesian news portal Tribunnews.com on Monday.
Heavy rains and strong winds have already caused several buildings in the Ngantang ward of Malang, East Java, to collapse under the weight of soaked ash. The ward was heavily hit by volcanic debris and disaster officials warned on Sunday that all communities within the immediate area should remain empty until the storms pass.
"The status is still Awas and areas within the 10-kilometer radius should remain vacant," Agus told Pikiran Rakyat. "We are also calling on all evacuees to pay close attention to officers’ instructions, especially now that rain is pouring heavily in the upstream areas of rivers, which are full of volcanic material."
More than 87,6oo residents from Kediri, Blitar, Malang, Jombang, and Kota Batu remained in evacuation shelters on Monday. Relief workers were making efforts to reunite family members in the crowd, said Akhmad Sukardi, head of East Java’s disaster mitigation relief post. Those who attempt to leave the camps can be ordered to remain out of concern for their safety if they live within the 10-kilometer exclusion zone, he added.
“If they insist, we can also force them [to stay], which means that officers can resort to taking firm action if the residents insist on leaving [the area]. This is to prevent any further, unwanted accidents and loss of life,” Akhmad said.
Emergency hospitals have been set up at locations throughout the camps and sanitation facilities and clean water supplies remained sufficient, Public Works Minister Djoko Kirmanto said on Monday.
“I wanted to make sure that sanitation facilities and clean water supplies were more than enough to ensure the evacuees’ health; these facilities are crucial for their wellbeing,” Djoko said in a press release on Monday.
The local administration has set aside Rp 30 billion ($2.5 million) in emergency funds to help evacuees. This figure does not include the money needed to rebuild damaged infrastructure.
Dairy farmers suffer huge losses
The economic impact of the volcanic eruption continued to compound on Monday as dairy farmers in the Malang district reported significant losses — up to Rp 436 million a day — as production dropped by half.
Sulistiyanto, head of East Java’s chapter of the Indonesian Dairy Cooperatives Association (GKSI), said the cows were in a state of distress from the conditions brought on by the natural disaster and that the lack of proper, uncontaminated food, such as grass, has significantly diminished their nutritional intake.
“The decline in production capacity only occurred in the Ngantang and Kasembon wards; those in the Pujon ward were still producing despite suffering a drastic decrease,” Sulistiyanto said.
The GKSI head continued to explain that dairy production in the western part of the district dropped by half. In Pujon, production fell from 90 tons per day on average, to 45 tons per day.
Ngantang saw its production plummeting from 80 tons per day to 40 tons per day on average. Production in Kasembon fell from 10 tons per day to 6 tons per day, while Batu’s remained stable at around 25 tons per day on average.