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INDONESIA: Volcano-displaced return home

JAKARTA, 27 September 2010 (IRIN) - Almost one month after the unexpected eruption of the Mount Sinabung volcano in North Sumatra Province, thousands of residents who fled to emergency shelters have begun returning home, officials say.

The National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) declared the emergency period over on 24 September, a day after authorities lowered the alert status one level from the highest.

Residents living beyond the radius of 3km from the volcano were allowed to go home. As of 27 September only 2,000 people remained in two of the 11 government-run shelters, said Chairunsyah Nasution, field coordinator for the Indonesian Red Cross.

"Some of the displaced people were sick, but we have enough food and medicine," he told IRIN, adding that the Red Cross would work there until 4 October.

Mount Sinabung erupted for the first time after 400 years on 29 August, forcing 30,000 villagers in Karo District to seek refuge in government-run shelters. Five more major eruptions followed, some bigger than the first.

One of those remaining in one of the shelters, Adi Teo, 41, said he could not wait to get home to tend his cattle and crops.

"It's boring here and we keep thinking about our work. I have a farm, goats and plants, such as tomatoes and chili, which should be taken care of," he said. "We have to make a living," he added.

Paten Sitepu, the head of Sukanalu village, said the shelters were crowded.

"There are too many people in each tent. Sometimes, it's hard for us to breathe," he said. "People are bored as they don't have any activity and children need to go to school," he said.

BNPB spokesman Priyadi Kardono said residents from three villages near the volcano - Bekerah, Sukameriah and Simacem - had not been allowed to go home because they remained at risk.

"[Everybody else has] been allowed to go home because the alert status has been lowered," he said.

"But our workers are still on stand-by on the ground," he added.

In another development, the Centre for Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation raised the alert status for Karangetang volcano to orange, one level below the highest, on 23 September.

The volcano, located on Siau island, north of Sulawesi island, erupted on 6 August, leaving four people injured and forcing 16 families to flee to safety.

Indonesia, situated on a belt of intense seismic activity known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, has the largest number - 129 - of active volcanoes on earth and a history of devastating volcanic disasters.

According to Maplecroft's Natural Disasters Risk Index 2010, of 229 countries surveyed, Indonesia ranked second only to Bangladesh in terms of vulnerability to natural disasters.

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Theme (s): Natural Disasters, Refugees/IDPs,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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