Malang. A deluge of torrential rain in East Java on Sunday prompted local officials to impose a safety curfew over some areas affected by the eruption of Mount Kelud for fear that rainwater could mix with volcanic dust, triggering mud flows.
“I came here on Saturday but I wasn’t allowed to come up, today I came again and they asked me to leave Ngantang before noon,” said Anita Rachmad, a relief donor who came to distribute rice, cleaning supplies and construction materials to the most-affected subdistrict.
Anita said in order to reach Pandansari village in Ngantang subdistrict, she had to take a much further route because the usual road through the mountain town of Batu was closed.
Head of Malang Disaster Mitigation Agency Hafi Lutfi said rain was expected to continue in the area for the next few days.
Hafi said the rain had triggered landslides that damaged several sections of mountain road.
“We are afraid the torrential rain could sweep away motorcyclists because the water from the Konto River could suddenly overflow,” he said.
“We have warned volunteers and locals to leave Pandansari to prevent the possibility of being swept away by a flash flood or struck down by collapsed housing,” he said.
Hafi said the intensity of the rainfall was expected to start declining in March.
More than 1,200 households in Pandansari are still taking refuge in two evacuation centers at Selorejo reservoir.
Locals only return home in the mornings to feed their cattle or to clean volcanic dust from their houses, he said.
Sitin, village head of Pandansari, said most houses in the area have been partially damaged by volcanic ash and rocks from Mount Kelud.
She said much-needed aid arrived late to the shelters because donators had to take detours because some routes were impassable.
“Some roads were closed in the afternoon because of the rain,” she said.
A mud flow in Padansari village on Thursday washed away two houses and two bridges, although no casualties were reported.
Lahar, as volcanic mud flow is locally known, blocked access to seven hamlets within Pandansari village, according to local police chief Adj. Comr. Priyanto.
Priyanto said the seven hamlets, each home to approximately 300 people, had seen the worst damage in Malang district following Mount Kelud’s massive eruption on Feb. 13.
Volcanic mud was carried down the mountain’s slopes by the river, which flows through Kasembon, Ngantang and Pujon subdistricts.
Previously the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) lowered its alert status from the highest to the second-highest level.
But the threat of mud flows and debris continued to loom over villages on the slopes of the 1,731-meter-high mountain.
More than 3,200 homes were severely damaged during the eruption and the mud flows that came in its wake.
Another 2,192 houses were moderately damaged, disaster officials said, but both figures are expected to climb as people start to leave the region’s evacuation shelters and return to their homes.
The impact of Mount Kelud’s eruption will extend far beyond the initial cleanup efforts. Fruit farmers reportedly lost more than Rp 24 billion ($2 million) in revenue as ash and debris destroyed whole fields of apples, durian and rambutan that were ready for harvest.
The trees, covered in a thick coating of ash, had withered from lack of sunlight.