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Indonesian Scientists Put 11 Volcanoes Under Alert

Agence France-Presse | April 17, 2005

Indonesian scientists have placed 11 volcanoes under close watch after a series of powerful quakes awoke intense subterranean forces and increased the chances of a major eruption.
As tens of thousands spent a third night in temporary camps after fleeing the slopes of Mount Talang on Sumatra island, where hot ash has been raining down since Monday, more volcanoes began rumbling into life.
Late Wednesday, Anak Krakatau - the "child" of the legendary Krakatoa that blew itself apart in 1883 in one of the worst-ever natural disasters - was put on alert status amid warnings of poisonous gas emissions.
No one lives on Krakatoa, a small island in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra, but the peak is a popular tourist spot, attracting both Indonesian and foreign day trippers.
A similar warning was earlier issued for Tangkuban Perahu, near the west Java city of Bandung. Next week the city will host more than 50 heads of state, including China's president, at a summit of Asian and African leaders.
Isya Nur Ahmad Dana of Indonesia's Vulcanology Office said Mount Merapi, 70km north of the Sumatran city of Padang, had been on alert since last August, but along with seven other peaks was now under closer watch.
"The status of Tangkuban Perahu in west Java and Krakatau in the Sunda Strait have both been raised from 'normal' to 'alert' on Wednesday following an observed increase in volcanic activities," Dana said.
Amid growing fears of an imminent disaster in the wake of recent powerful earthquakes and last year's devastating tsunami disaster, the government has urged people to remain calm.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono travelled to an area near Talang, 25km east of Padang, to meet some of the more than 20,000 people who have fled villages on the fertile slopes of the smoking peak.
His deputy Yusuf Kalla also warned people living near other active volcanoes to take precautions and urged local officials to make contingency plans in anticipation of an eruption.
"We call on the people to really be alert," he said.
Indonesia has 130 active volcanoes, forming part of the Pacific Ring of Fire - an arc of intense seismic activity that stretches from quake-prone Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific basin.
The archipelago nation's proximity to the junction of three continental plates, which jostle under immense pressure, makes it particularly vulnerable to earthquakes and eruptions.
A massive 9.3 magnitude earthquake on December 26 triggered the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 220,000 people. A second quake of 8.7 on the Richter scale from the same faultline killed at least 670 people last month.
Scientists have warned of a possible third disaster, either a quake or an eruption from a so-called super volcano, such as the giant crater in which Lake Toba in Sumatra is located, where increased activity has also been recorded.
Mount Talang, a 2599m volcano that last erupted in 2003, remains on standby for eruption with scientists unable to determine if the peak was beginning to calm down.
"Our team is still studying the data on site and we cannot yet say whether the activities of Mount Talang have slowed down or energy is building up for a bigger eruption," Dana said.
But he said there were no immediate moves to evacuate people around Tangkuban Perahu, which straddles the territories of two districts and the city of Bandung, with a total population of some 7.5 million people.
One prominent Indonesian seismologist meanwhile expressed doubt that the volcanic activity was linked to recent tremors as quakes were linked to tectonic friction while eruptions were due to an accumulation of molten magma.
"Theoretically, it can happen and there is a relationship, but the correlation is not 100 percent and it rarely occurs," said Sarwidi, head of seismology studies centre at Indonesia's Islamic University in Yogyakarta.
In the latest earth tremor, a 5.8-magnitude quake was recorded on Sumatra island, according to the Hong Kong Observatory.

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