Jakarta: The Mount Soputan volcano in Indonesia erupted on Wednesday, throwing ash as high as 4,000 meters into the sky, days after an earthquake and tsunami killed more than 1,400 people on the same island. Authorities ordered people out of a 4-kilometer radius of the peak of the Mount Soputan in North Sulawesi province, citing threat of lava and simmering clouds from the eruption, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency. Sam Ratulangi International Airport in Manado -- the capital of North Sulawesi -- is operating normally, agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in a statement.
The eruption comes less than a week after a 7.4-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami killed at least 1,407 people and displaced more than 70,000 in Central Sulawesi. Mount Soputan is located about 900 kilometers northeast of the quake ravaged region and there were no immediate reports of any casualties from the volcanic eruption.
President Joko Widodo headed back to the quake-affected areas for a second time on Wednesday to supervise rescue and relief operations as reports of mass looting of food and other goods emerged. The toll may rise as rescuers were unable to extricate people suspected to be buried under buildings that collapsed due to liquefaction, a phenomenon that causes soil to lose its strength after violent shaking, Nugroho told reporters on Wednesday.
While 152 people were feared trapped under debris, 113 people were still missing and more than 2,500 were seriously injured, Nugroho said.
Though Central Sulawesi accounts only for about 1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, the reconstruction cost may weigh on the government’s finances as it battles a slump in the currency. The rupiah weakened past 15,000 per dollar for the first time in 20 years on Tuesday and is down 10 percent this year.
The quake and volcano may also hurt the nation’s all-important tourism industry, which was rattled by a series of deadly earthquakes in popular tourist destination of Lombok island, near Bali. Foreign tourist arrivals have been disrupted by a volcanic eruption at Mount Agung on Bali island late last year and Mount Merapi near Yogyakarta this year.
Some airlines have resumed commercial service from the airport in Palu, the capital city of Central Sulawesi, and the government has set up a command post in Balikpapan to coordinate international aid, Nugroho said.
Indonesia’s 17,000 islands are prone to earthquakes because the country straddles the Pacific Ring of Fire -- an arc of fault lines and volcanoes that causes frequent seismic upheavals. At least 160,000 people were killed on Sumatra island as a result of a 9.1 magnitude earthquake and tsunami on Boxing Day in 2004. The Sulawesi disaster is the worst since more than 6,000 people were killed in an earthquake in Central Java region in 2006.
More than half of Indonesia’s 260 million people live in quake prone areas, the disaster mitigation agency said on Wednesday, amid reports that people in Central Sulawesi were not adequately warned about last week’s tsunami. While an estimated 148.4 million people live in regions more likely to be hit by earthquakes, about 3.8 million people are at risk of being affected by tsunamis, Nugroho said.
With the budget for disaster mitigation declining to a paltry 700 billion rupiah ($46 million), the country doesn’t have enough buoys or sirens to alert people about potential tsunamis, he said. The nation currently relies on five foreign buoys for tsunami detection, he said.
“Our tsunami buoys are all broken because of vandalism and lack of maintenance," Nugroho said. “In general, the people and regional governments are not ready to deal with natural disasters."