80,000 refugees return home while Merapi volcano still on highest alert in Indonesia

By NNN-Xinhua,

Jakarta : Tens of thousands of villagers have already returned to their homes on the slopes of Mount Merapi after authorities reduced the danger zone around the volcano by some five kilometers following the slowing of the volcano’s activities, local media reported on Saturday.

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Surono, head of the Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Agency (PVMBG), said on Friday that the danger zone for Sleman, the hardest-hit district in the Merapi eruptions, had been reduced from 20 kilometers from the crater to between 10 and 15 kilometers.

For Magelang and Klaten districts the danger zone is now set at a 10-kilometer radius from the crater, down from 15 kilometers, while in Boyolali it has been put at five kilometers, he said.

The narrowing of the danger zone, he added, followed a drop in the intensity of the eruptions in the past few days.

“However, we have not lowered the status of Mount Merapi from the highest alert and we continue to remind the people of Yogyakarta of the threat of a heavy flow of cold lava via the Code River, which runs through the heart of the city,” he was quoted by the Jakarta Globe as saying.

Syamsul Maarif, head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), said that some 80,000 of the 272,164 evacuees in the four districts surrounding Mount Merapi — Sleman in Yogyakarta, and Magelang, Klaten and Boyolali in Central Java — were believed to have returned to their villages.

Police are still on alert to track the movement of evacuees and warn off curiosity-seekers who, believing the danger over, could hinder relief efforts, he said.

“We have involved the police and soldiers to guard and monitor the evacuees’ movement and bar outsiders who want to go to the disaster area just to have a look,” he said.