Sunday, November 7, 2010

How to Survive a Volcano Eruption: Mount Merapi, Indonesia

When Volcano Merapi Gets Serious
Unexpected eruption during my travels around Indonosia

Man cycles around an ash covered Yogyakarta

 November 5th, 2010

Dear Team World,

I may have taken my adventure seeking too far when I decided to visit the city of an active volcano. It all started when Journo Friend Aubz seduced to me with uber cheap flight tickets (my weak spot) + cool culture (weaker spot) + adventuring around with him while he does cool journalistastic stuff about the volcano (weakest spot of them all!!), and against my better judgement I just couldn't say no. Anyways, I was definitely hoping for a bit of adventure, not Dante's Peak or anything but maybe see some MAGMA (Dr. Evil voice) in the distance, instead what we got last night and today ended up being much more than I bargained for and in fact pretty damn serious. (By now you've probably seen all the horrible stuff on the news, so I'm just going to give you this experience through my own humble sensory ducts.)

Around midnight last night after we were about to go to bed, we heard the ominous thundering of Mount Merapi get heck of a lot louder. Imagine an elder T-rex couple having sex or if God were to bury himself in the centre of the earth and break wind excruciatingly slowly,  like a deep rumbling that fills the air around you.  You just knew there was some big force out there but we couldn't see anything from our apartments (inappropriately named Merapi View), because of cloud cover and we had no idea what to expect. As it got louder though, it was followed by ash downfall that, like a prick was trying to pass as rain, but we saw through that act. It was all hot and made a weird noise when it hit the leaves, like it was slapping the foliage rather than dripping. Something solid was falling out of the sky and that's when Beardo Ron Burgundy Journo Will, who we were staying with decided it was time to peace.the.hell.out.

I had no time to even put on my shoes, just stuffed my clothes back into my bag and we jumped into his car to make our great escape. The Dukes of Hazzard would have been put to shame. I really don't know how we didn't die or kill others in the process of just trying to drive South (away from the volcano). There was ash and rain pouring out of the sky and we could barely see out of our windows as it made some sort of paste on the glass, and cars and motor bikes littered the roads. Everyone had the same thought in mind. The evacuation zone that had previously been set at 10 km had now allegedly moved to 15 and then 20. Where we were living was 21 km away. ..

If you're having a hard time imagining what death by volcano is as I was (which helped keep my Johny Cool pants on) it is done by some freakish cloud bazuka filled with deathly gas plus a billion pounds of potential to incinerate you. It sort of rolls down the mountain destroying everything in sight. The Indonesians call this pyroclastic blast, wedhus gembel which translates to dirty sheep skin on the arse or something like that. That's what we were running from, get it?

If you don't get it, here's my attempt to capture what my lil' eyes saw. Sorry for the crap ass edit.

Thankfully we made it safely to a hotel that night. The damage the next day though was absolutely horrid. Not everyone had made it out in time during the eruption last night. 77 people had died in the Wedhus Gembel and turns out it was the biggest eruption yet.

The IDP camps that had been set up outside the old evacuation zone of 10 km had to relocate to this stadium. About 30 000 people were stuck there. It was chaotic and packed and apparently there wasn't anyone coordinating the relief effort but to my humble eye it looked like folks were being taken care of (enough food, medical rooms weren't packed). It was sad though because people were not very comfortably set up, just sitting on mats and sheets on the ground waiting for some news. 

I met this extremely high spirited family that I ended up hanging out with while Journo Aubz did his thang at the camp.  Read some real news on this day, here.

Around Yogyakarta in Pictures

Early morning we had to clean  the ash stuck to our car from the night before, before heading off to the Maguwoharo Stadium, the newest evacuation camp.

Mask is the new black. Impossible to walk around without a mask on in Yogyjakarta. Ash particles containing silica, a chemical compound with tiny glass particles had littered the air. Check out more on how messed up my/your lungs might be, here.

Panic over possible evacuation of the main city causes ridic' lines to fill up their tanks, preparing for a quick exit. 

 Back at the place we had just evacuated it's like a tropical winter wonderland. We gathered the stuff we had forgot in our mad rush last night (like my shoes) and headed off for the rest of our day.

(All photos copyright Felicia Moursalien)

Anyways World bromies,  for the rest of my time here I'm going to try and find culture survival amidst the ash cover. Wish me luck.


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