Lokon-Empung Volcano in Indonesia Erupts

Lokon-Empung volcano located in the northern Sulawesi province of Indonesia, erupted late Thursday night, July 15th, followed by several large eruptions throughout the weekend.  Villages around Mount Lokon have been under high alert levels since last Sunday, as residents were advised to evacuate the area.  Small eruptions occurred daily throughout the week until Thursday’s volatile explosion of lava and ash.

Mount Lokon-Empung is a two peak volcano situated less than 1.5 miles apart.  Located at the southern end of Sangihe volcanic arc, Lokon is the most prominent landform of the chain extending 1,580 meters above sea level.  The horseshoe arc is more commonly referred to as, the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” because 129 active volcanos and seismic fault lines encircle the area between the Pacific and Indian oceans.  The volcanic area has lain dormant for many years; the last major eruption occurred in 1991.    

The affected Indonesian archipelago region is home to over 33,000 people.  Many of the villagers take advantage of the fertile ashy land, growing coffee and cloves.  With Thursday’s explosion, thousands of residents were evacuated to a 2.2 mile safe zone.  Taking shelter in schools, mosques and emergency shelters, residents agreed the eruption was the largest they have experienced.  Nelson Uada said in an interview with The Daily Caller, “It was very scary, […].  Glowing lava flowed like flames in the darkness and it sounded like we were in a war.”   

Volcanologist Surono, stated a blast occurring Sunday around 10:35 a.m., caused the largest eruption so far.  Debris soared 11,400 feet into the air forcing all air-travel to redirect flights.  Despite the large eruption, no flights were cancelled and the nearby international airport in Manado was unaffected. 

Disaster assistance has already started with eight emergency points erected and 60,000 respiratory masks handed out.  Many heeded evacuation notices, but one report claimed after several days of no powerful explosions, numerous residents moved back home into the danger zone.  After Thursday’s eruption, those who moved back into the evacuation area fled.  As of last reports there was only one fatality; that of woman who suffered a heart attack.

Central Indonesia’s eruption is the latest in a string of spring and summer volcanic activity.  In March, Shinmoedake volcano, which is also part of the “Ring of Fire,” on Japan’s Kyushu Island, erupted for the second time in several months after lying dormant for nearly two years.  The eruption was the largest Shinmoedake blast in 52 years, being heard miles away.  Volcanic debris soared 6,000 feet in the air, sending hundreds of people fleeing.  Scientists are researching if the eruption is linked to the earthquake that devastated the northeastern coast of Japan.

In May, Iceland’s Grimsvotn volcano erupted, plunging surrounding regions into darkness.  Air-travel was advised to stay clear of Iceland as ash and soot rained down on parts of the country.  The volcano lies beneath uninhabited Vatnajokull glacier in southeast Iceland.  Not since 2004 has the volcano erupted, but the blast was the largest from Grimsvotn in over 100 years.

Currently, Nabro in northeast Africa is being monitored for a potential volcanic eruption.  In early June, the region experienced a series of moderate earthquakes followed by two strong 5.7 earthquakes.  Eritrean volcano has no history of eruptions, but researchers believe earthquake patterns and the location of the epicenter, equates to looming volcanic activity.

For now, affected Indonesian residents are keeping vigilance as they patiently wait to be cleared to return home.  Henny Lalawi, who was working on a coffee plantation at the time of eruption, told the Huffington Post she will go back to work as soon as things calm down.  She stated, “It’s only ash, after all, and I need the work.”

Photo Credit:  fema.gov/kids/p_vol04.htm