More information on Sinabung’s recent victims

This image accompanies the news story.

This image accompanies the news story.

If you have been following updates on Mount Sinabung’s eruption (see right sidebar), or even the general news, you’ll know that there was a tragedy at the volcano yesterday, when some people (the current count is 16) got caught in a pyroclastic flow while illegally being within 3 km of the volcano’s summit. It’s all the more horrific because school children and students were among the victims.

I came across the following story, in Indonesian, and wanted to share the Google Translate version, as it answers the main question probably everybody has – why were students and schoolchildren placed in harm’s way?

This is not to say it’s a good answer, of course – see below.

Kutacane, – Seven students from Southeast Aceh were reported killed by a blast of hot clouds eruption of Mount Sinabung in Tanah Karo, North Sumatra, the time to volunteer to help victims of Sinabung on Saturday (01/02/2014). The bodies of the seven victims had arrived at Agara, Sunday (02/02/2014) morning.

The seven volunteers who are killed Nita Bonita Napitupulu Fitr, Bisno Marudut Sihite, Courtesy Siregar, Siregar Julfandi, Daniel, Samson, Expensive Surbakti, and Asran Lubis. All the victims died while delivering aid to victims of displacement Sinabung as well as volunteers.

Chairman of the Youth and Student Movement Aceh Tenggara (Gepmat), Faisal Kadrin Dube, kmengatakan since 03.00 pm last members welcomed the bodies of the victims in three Binanga. At the reception location nine victims were also alerted ambulance cars, family cars, and military escorts.

According to Faisal, of the seven victims, two men were students of Yayasan Nurul Hasanah, ie Courtesy Siregar and Daniel. The Zulfandi Siregar Nursing Student Government and the Student Supreme Surbakti Kutacane Medan residents. Sedangankan three others were students UGL Kutacane, namely Fitr Nita Bonita Napitupulu (Guidance and Counseling), Asran Lubis (Faculty of Economics), and Marudut Bisno Sihite (Guidance and Counseling) University of Mount Leuser (UGL) Kutacane.
Until now, the death toll from a blast of hot clouds of Mount Sinabung eruption to 15 people, including seven counties of origin of victims Agara. While the two burn victims still in intensive care in hospital Efarina Etaham.

(Budi Prasetyo)

The victims

“All the victims died while delivering aid to victims of displacement Sinabung as well as volunteers (Semua korban meninggal saat mengantar bantuan untuk korban pengungsian Sinabung sekaligus sebagai relawan).”

Seven out of 16 (so far) leaves nine; reportedly a teacher and a Medan-based journalist were also killed, so that leaves six people who possibly (as of what I know right now) could have been those “victims of displacement” still residing or at least traveling within the no-go zone.

It’s important to note that authorities, just the previous day, had clearly specified that this area was still off limits because it was so close to the volcano, even though 13,828 other people who lived beyond 5 km could be allowed to go home.

Those kids died because they tried to help those who had willingly put themselves at risk. They were very kind to attempt that, but it wasn’t a smart thing to do.

The best way to help people is by using your head first.

You will die if you get this close to a flow before it has cooled, degassed and stabilized.   (Source)

Even if it doesn’t engulf you, you can still die if you get this close to a flow before it has cooled, degassed and stabilized. (Source)

Pyroclastic flows

Pyroclastic flows like these happen because there’s a big plug of lava up at the top of the volcano, called a dome. It’s hot, not too solid, and it’s under pressure because more lava is squeezing up from below, not to mention the occasional earthquakes that happen on an erupting volcano.

Domes can and do collapse frequently and unpredictably. The resulting avalanche of debris doesn’t act like normal material because it is fluidized by the gases within it (I have also heard that it travels on a superheated cushion of air that reduces friction, but maybe that’s an old idea – can’t find any references for it today).

Per the USGS, “Pyroclastic flows typically move at speeds of over 60 miles per hour (100 kilometers/hour) and reach temperatures of over 800 Degrees Fahrenheit (400 degrees Celsius).”

At Sinabung, a typical flow that ran out fully would have reached the 3-km mark in less than 2 minutes. Those people had no chance to escape, if they even saw or heard the flow coming. They were so close, it didn’t even have to be a surge.

Maybe they were gambling that they could make it because there had been fewer flows over recent days and the ones that occurred didn’t run out very far. If so, they didn’t understand how volcanoes work.

Too, the area where this happened apparently (judging by photographs I’ve seen in news stories) hadn’t been affected by flows yet. What they might not have realized was that earlier flows had filled up the channeling ravines so flows could occur in different directions – as yesterday’s massive flow did.

In harm’s way

There is only one way to survive something like this …


…don’t get in its way.

If you see others in danger, concentrate on getting them out of the way before there’s the possibility of a flow (this is what exclusion zones around volcanoes are all about).

Do not try to go in and assist them while the volcano is active and especially not if they have entered a no-go zone. It’s heartbreaking, but try to remember that if you go in and the worst happens, they’ll be dead, you’ll be dead, and those who will try to go in and retrieve your bodies may also get killed and certainly will be traumatized in the process.

It’s not worth it.

h/t to Erik Klemetti for that video, which conveys the horror while blurring out the grisly parts

Categories: Random thoughts, volcanoes

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