Volcano Erupts in Indonesia
The volcanic eruption of Mount Kelud in Indonesia on Friday, February 14, 2014 sheds light upon the issue of the impacts of Mother Nature during travel. Although volcanic activity and earthquakes should not be a surprise due to Indonesia being located in the “Pacific Ring of Fire” where such activity often occurs, the volcano had not erupted since 2007. In December, Chapparrastique volcano in El Salvador also gained worldwide attention when it erupted after over 37 years of inactivity.
The eruption prompted the Indonesian government to raise its eruption alert to its highest level. This eruption has taken 3 lives due to falling debris and smoke inhalation, and over 75,000 residents within a 6 mile radius were ordered to evacuate, calling on military assistance to relocate residents to shelters. Seven airports were closed due to the amount of volcanic ash in the atmosphere and the threat this poses to jet engines compromising safety conditions, suspending travel plans for many.
Protecting You and Your Family During a Volcanic Eruption
When preparing for travel, you may have thought of everything that you need to pack and your itinerary, and still encounter a few surprises along the way. But what do you do when the totally unforeseen occurs, such as a volcano eruption? The Center for Disease Control advises that the best thing to do if you should encounter a volcanic eruption is to follow the advice of local officials. They will be able to provide you with important information, including evacuation details, if needed.
The CDC also provides the following tips if you are faced with this situation:
- If lava is headed towards you, leave the area immediately. Follow evacuation instructions immediately after being warned of imminent danger. When able to do so, evacuate in a vehicle rather than walking, keeping all doors and windows closed. Be aware of the road and any hazardous driving conditions or obstacles. If you are able to, drive your vehicle across the path of danger, and if not, drive away from danger.
- If you are indoors, protect yourself from ash and smoke by closing all windows and doors, and any other entry points for outside air, such as fireplaces or woodstove dampers. Fans, heating and air conditioning should not be used. Remember to also protect pets and livestock by bringing them indoors.
- If you are outdoors, seek an indoor shelter. If caught in rockfall or other falling debris, tuck into a ball and always protect your head. Move up-slop as quickly as possible if you are near a stream or river since rising water and possible mudflows are likely in lower-lying areas. If your eyes, nose, and throat become irritated from volcanic gases and fumes, these symptoms should subside as you immediately relocate to another area. If these symptoms persist, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
The presence of ashfall alone poses its own threat. When faced with ashfall, you should:
- Close all doors and windows and stay inside.
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants.
- Protect your eyes with goggles while inside. If ashfall is continuous, your indoor shelter is put at risk after a few hours due to a possible roof collapse caused by the weight of ash, and could possibly block air intakes. If ashfall lasts for more than a few hours, listen to evacuation advice from authorities.
- Remember that exposure to ash can cause harm to your respiratory tract and your health. When outdoors or cleaning ash that has accumulated indoors, an air purifying respirator may be considered, such as an N-95 respirator which is commonly available at hardware stores. All directions should be followed for proper use and maximum protection. A dust mask may be used as a last resort, but they do not offer as much protection as a particulate respirator, such as the N-95. Please note that a particulate respirator does not filter toxic gases and vapors. It is important that all trips outdoors are not for extended periods of time while dust and ash is falling.
- If you have to drive, driving in heavy ashfall should be avoided since the ash can clog engines and stall vehicles. All windows and doors should be closed, and air conditioning should not be used since it will draw in outside air and ash.
For more details on these recent volcanic eruptions and volcano preparedness, please see the listed sources below.