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Still shaken, thousands of Mt. Sinabung evacuees return home

Publication Date : 17-02-2014


Thousands of hesitant villagers who were displaced by the Mt. Sinabung eruptions in North Sumatra have begun returning home after living in shelters for about five months.

As many as 5,783 people or 1,697 families arrived at their respective houses on Friday, all located outside the 5-kilometre radius still declared unsafe by the Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Center (PVMBG).

“Actually, there is still a lot of fear about returning home among residents. They are afraid the mountain may erupt again suddenly,” Asli Sitepu, an evacuee and head of Sikandebu village, said on Sunday.

Two weeks ago, Sinabung erupted again, killing 16 people who had approached the mountain.

Some of the victims were farmers trying to harvest crops or collect belongings from their homes.

Before the incident, at least 14 evacuees had died due to various illnesses and stresses sustained during their stay in the shelters. The volcano has been erupting off and on since September.

According to Sitepu, many evacuees agreed to go home only after they were assured by the PVMBG that their residential areas were safe.

“Our family will return on Wednesday. I just got the schedule,” he said.

He also said advance response teams had cleaned up their houses three days before the evacuees arrived. “So, we do not need to do any cleaning, we can just enter the house.”

On Sunday, no additional evacuees left the shelters, since many wanted to go to church for Sunday worship.

About 27,000 more evacuees from 13 villages will return home in the coming days.

“They will return home gradually,” the commander of the Sinabung Disaster Mitigation Program Lt. Col. Asep Sukarna said on Sunday.

Asep said the evacuees who had arrived home would get cash-for-work financing of 50,000 rupiah (US$4.22) per family per day for ten days and an additional allowance of 6,000 rupiah and 0.4 kilograms of rice per person for a month.

He hoped those who had been advised to stay in the shelters could remain patient until the mountain return normal.

Rosmala is a 45-year-old evacuee who is not yet allowed to return home. Sitting in a plastic chair in front of a shelter, she said her village, Bakerah, was located 2.5 km from the crater of Sinabung, in the danger zone.

“We have been told that we would be relocated. But I don’t know to where,” the mother of one was quoted by Antara news agency as saying.

Another evacuee from within the danger zone, Inganta Beru Sembiring, expressed hope that they would be relocated to areas not far from their homes that had adequate farmland. “If we don’t have land, what will we do for a living?”

Most of the evacuees are farmers from a region known for producing vegetables, flowers and fruit, including the Medan orange fruit sold across the country.

The PVMBG had earlier recommended that residents of three villages located within 3km of the crater — Sukameriah, Bekerah and Simacem — be relocated to avert human cost should the volcano erupt again in the future.

A total of 1,255 people or 389 families from the three villages have been advised to move.

In the planned relocation, each family would be given a 36-square-meter house in a 100-square-meter plot of land. The provincial administration is reportedly preparing 15 to 25 hectares of land for the relocation.


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