Living in the Ring of Fire

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By Will

Wow. What a week.

What was already supposed to be an exciting and emotional week due to our Close of Service conference was completely waylaid by the eruption of a local volcano, Gunung Kelud.

Prior to our conference in Batu (the area where we had training at the beginning of our service, about two hours from our site), Gunung Kelud had been rumbling and the warning levels had been increased to the second highest level. At the conference, a number of our friends that also live in the area were comparing notes about what we had heard so far. One friend shared this picture that he had received from someone in his town, showing the action that had started at the volcano.

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This is the “baby volcano” inside of the much more massive volcano.

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And for comparison, this picture is from last March when we visited Gunung Kelud with Amy’s cousin.

On Thursday night, during a late-night game of cards, we noticed that the room was getting foggy, started smelling of sulfur and we could hear what sounded like thunder. We went outside and it looked like a snowstorm with falling ash. At about 1:30 in the morning, our Safety and Security Officer sent us a text message letting us know that Kelud had, in fact, erupted. They had to have been relieved that our group was at least safe and sound in one hotel already.

Ash that started appearing that night

Ash that started appearing that night

The next morning, Peace Corps sent us all early morning text messages asking us to cover our mouths and noses with scarves to prevent inhaling the ash. When we opened the door and walked outside, it looked like a fresh blanket of snow across the paths, trees and rooftops. The fact that we were at a mountain resort added to ski resort vibe.

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Late morning, our Peace Corps doctors arrived, as they were scheduled to lead a session about after-service health care. They doled out green face masks for us to wear.

Real fashionable, huh?

Real fashionable, huh?

Unfortunately, due to the amount of ash in the air, the conference was ended before the last session and we were evacuated to another hotel in a city further away from the volcano. Peace Corps staff then called people at our sites to assess the amount of ash in the air and then had the Volunteers in dangerous areas stay an extra night in Surabaya. This was the first time Peace Corps Indonesia has had to consolidate Volunteers and the staff performed incredibly throughout the whole week and made sure that everything was safe before we headed back.

We got back to our site today and the evidence of the eruption is still around. The sides of the streets still have ash piled up and, in talking to our friends here, we learned that there were several inches of ash on Friday. Even wilder, our site had reports of gravel raining from the sky since we are only about 20 miles from Gunung Kelud. Unsurprisingly, all of the stores are out of face masks.

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The green arrow is Gunung Kelud, about 20 miles as the crow flies from where we live (marked by the “A”)

Even though a volcano eruption is a really serious thing, it was an incredibly interesting experience. Volcanos are a real part of the history and landscape of Indonesia, and we got to experience one just before our time here comes to an end.

Enjoy more pictures below.

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8 thoughts on “Living in the Ring of Fire

  1. Thought of you when I heard about the eruption, glad that you are okay and damage seems to be slight. Of course, I thought of Mt.St.Helens which was a massive eruption that caused a great deal of damage. Did you collect any ash? I have some from Mt.St.Helens, you can drag a magnet through it and it picks up iron deposits, really heavy too.

  2. One of the volunteers in the Philippines in 74 or so was a vulcanologist, and he lived incredibly close to Mt. Mayon, which was about 60 K from us. Mt. Mayon smoked a bit and threw out the occasional boulder, but was tame enough for all of us to climb on it, and nearly reach its summit. It has erupted twice since, and caused a lot of chaos. I’m kind of jealous you got to see an eruption up close, though I know it wreaks havoc and sometimes worse on people living nearby. It sounds as if, maybe, this eruption will be non-lethal. I hope and trust!

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