James Hickey is a PhD student in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol. A geophysicist and volcanologist by trade, his PhD project is focussed on attempting to place constraints on volcanic unrest using integrated geodetic modelling.
Last Saturday (1st February 2014) an eruption at Sinabung volcano in Indonesia claimed the lives of 14 people. That death toll has since risen to 16, and could rise further as people battle in hospital with severe burns and other wounds.
The volcano has been erupting since September 2013 and over 30,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. The Friday before the latest eruption, anxious citizens were allowed back to check on their homes. Many had been sneaking back into the exclusion zone anyway. And herein lies the danger. Despite the obvious inconvenience of being away from home for such a period of time, exclusion zones and evacuations are there for protection and safety. This tragic event is the result of people becoming too complacent around a volcano with a prolonged eruption, and locals not fully understanding the risks associated with such situations.
Hopefully this will serve as a timely reminder, to both locals and scientists. The perennial need for better communication between scientists, locals and civil protection authorities isn’t going away.