Indonesia’s Mount Ruang Erupts, Raising Tsunami Fears

Josiah finn | Last Updated : April 19, 2024

One of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes has roared back to life in an eruption sequence that has the entire island nation on high alert. Mount Ruang, situated on the remote Tagulandang Island off the northern coast of Sulawesi, has experienced at least five powerful explosive eruptions since Tuesday according to the Volcanological Survey of Indonesia.

Dramatic video and photos captured bright red molten lava spewing from the crater, accompanied by towering plumes of ash that have reached stratospheric heights over 6 miles into the atmosphere. While no deaths or injuries have been reported so far, the sheer force and intensity of Mount Ruang’s eruptions have authorities deeply concerned about the potential for an even more catastrophic event – a volcanic tsunami.

On Thursday, Indonesia’s Center for Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation (PVMBG) raised the alert level for Mount Ruang to the highest possible status due to “significant increases in visual and seismic activity.” The Sitaro Regency Government responded by immediately ordering a mandatory evacuation of 828 residents from the most vulnerable areas surrounding the volcano.

“The static population count of residents in the location should be at least 11,000 people who need to evacuate temporarily,” said Abdul Muhari, the head of Indonesia’s disaster management agency BNPB. Evacuations of such a large population are a logistical challenge even for the world’s most prepared nations. But with memories still fresh of the 2018 Sunda Strait tsunami that killed over 400 people, Indonesian officials are taking every precaution.

The primary fear is that a major eruption could trigger a catastrophic collapse of part of Mount Ruang itself. This would not only drastically increase the volcanic debris and ashfall radiating outward, but could displace massive amounts of water in the surrounding seas and set off tsunami waves. It’s a phenomenon Indonesia knows all too well from previous volcanic disasters.

In 1883, the notorious eruption of Krakatoa triggered a series of devastating tsunamis over 120 feet high that killed an estimated 36,000 people on the islands of Java and Sumatra. As recently as 2018, the eruption of Anak Krakatau caused an undersea landslide that generated a tsunami reaching heights of 35 feet in some areas.

With Mount Ruang’s escalating volatility over the past 48 hours, including over 400 recorded volcanic earthquakes on Wednesday alone, emergency management officials are preparing for worst-case scenarios. “Hot cloud” eruptions have already sent superheated blasts of gas and debris nearly 2 miles into the air according to reports. 

Any sudden partial collapse of the unstable volcano could precipitate similar conditions that led to the previous Indonesian tsunamis. As a result, all residents living in coastal areas have been advised to maintain a high level of vigilance and be prepared to evacuate at a moment’s notice.

Indonesian authorities are clearly leaving nothing to chance when it comes to the safety of those living in Mount Ruang’s shadow. On Thursday morning, military vessels could be seen loading up supplies and evacuating residents in the port town of Manado before heading towards the erupting volcano.

Airlines have also taken notice, with several carriers forced to cancel or reroute flights due to the vast ash plumes spewing from the crater. Malaysia Airlines had to temporarily suspend service to the region on Wednesday before resuming a day later. Budget airline AirAsia has taken a more cautious approach, announcing they’ll hold off on any Sulawesi routes until the airspace is definitively clear of volcanic debris.  

While the eruption has already necessitated a large-scale evacuation and travel disruptions, the greater disaster risk remains an impending tsunami triggered by the collapse of Mount Ruang itself. This terrifying scenario has played out across Indonesia’s seismically-active archipelago repeatedly throughout history.

Located squarely on the “Ring of Fire” – the Pacific region where several major tectonic plates violently grind together – Indonesia is one of the most earthquake and volcano-prone nations on Earth. The constant shifting and collisions of plate tectonics beneath both the land and sea have generated many of the deadliest natural events in recorded human history.

In 2004, a massive undersea megathrust earthquake off the coast of Sumatra triggered tsunamis reaching up to 100 feet high that killed over 230,000 across 14 countries, one of the worst disasters of the 21st century. In 2018, the tsunami caused by Anak Krakatau’s volcanic landslide struck without any warning, sweeping away entire shoreline communities.  

With Mount Ruang’s intensity continuing to increase by the hour, Indonesian emergency personnel are desperate to avoid a similar scenario where evacuation orders come too late for those in the potential path of destruction. Even smaller local tsunamis generated in the aftermath of the volcano’s hoped-for stabilization would pose serious threats to coastal areas.

For now, temporary displacement and travel interruptions remain the primary headaches caused by Mount Ruang’s furious eruptions. But with the volcano showing no signs of simmering down, the possibility of an even more catastrophic event continues growing.  

In many ways, the images of glowing red lava flows and massive billowing ash clouds transports viewers back to the genesis of Indonesia’s volcanic archipelago. It’s a stark reminder that the same crushingly powerful geological forces that created the island nation’s lush tropical landscapes are always lurking just below the surface, ready to remake the terrain through sheer, destructive might.

Since recorded history in the region, at least 7 million people have perished in volcanic eruptions across Indonesia, a staggering number that underscores the perpetual existential threat faced by 21st century inhabitants. It’s precisely why officials are airing so heavily on the side of precaution with the current Mount Ruang crisis.

Should the volcano ultimately stabilize and avoid a cataclysmic eruption or tsunami, the evacuations and flight disruptions will surely be deemed an overreaction by some. But the gamble of underestimating these primordial forces has cost Indonesia dearly too many times in the past. With thousands of lives potentially hanging in the balance, there is no punishment for playing it too safe.

For now, a tense waiting game continues as volcanologists urgently monitor every new burst of activity from Mount Ruang. Any sign the fury is beginning to wane will dramatically reduce the prospect of larger-scale destruction. But until that inflection point, Indonesia will remain poised for all contingencies – including triggering the extensive evacuation of over 11,000 residents should the worst-case tsunami scenario start to materialize.

It’s a high-stakes standoff pitting the best preparation and technology of modern civilization against the unpredictable, awe-inspiring power of the planet’s molten core. For those living along the Ring of Fire, it’s a harsh reality that must always be respected. Because when volcanoes like Mount Ruang decide to rage, even the most intricate human plans can be rendered meaningless in an instant.

Josiah finn

Josiah finn is a professional life coach who helps people to make progress in their lives in order to attain greater fulfillment. He helps his clients in improving their relationships, careers, and day-to-day lives. Josiah finn Has equipped with Life Coach certification that is ICF accredited and is an active listener.

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