Manado (ANTARA) - “Mom, there is a fire blazing above our heads. We must run!” a child from Tagulandang Island yelled out to their mother, Jill Manumpil, when Mount Ruang in Sitaro District, North Sulawesi, erupted for the first time on April 17, 2024.

Jill, a resident of Tulusan village and the wife of a Pentecostal church pastor, is currently taking refuge in the provincial capital of Manado. For her, the volcanic eruption was the most terrifying disaster she has witnessed.

She said that the volcano erupted abruptly at 1:30 a.m. Central Indonesian Time (WITA) on Wednesday, hurling fist-sized rocks toward residential areas.

As terror and panic set in, Jill quickly piled her three children in her car and drove around, looking for a place that was safe from the volcanic rocks and ash spewed by Mount Ruang, which sits on an island opposite Tagulandang Island.

As they ran toward the car, the kids warned Jill about the volcanic materials that were turning the sky red.

“To me, it was apocalyptic. However, thanks to God’s gracious help, we managed to avoid the plethora of volcanic rocks and ashes spewed by the mountain,” she said, adding that the eruption destroyed many homes in the area.

Meanwhile, Pastor Reza Tular, Jill’s husband, recalled that the locals were in panic and frantically thronged some roads looking for a safe spot.

He said that some residents even headed to a nearby dock though there were no ships scheduled to sail to Manado or Siau, the capital of Sitaro District, that day.

“My first act was finding a safe location for my wife and children to avoid the rocks coming from the mountain,” he told the congregants of the Tiberias Malalayang Pentecostal Church in Manado.

The following noon, thousands of Tagulandang islanders gathered at Tagulandang and Minanga ports, hoping to board vessels that would transport them to safer areas.

“In the afternoon, we received information that volunteers aboard military ships had arrived. Some of the residents were then heading to Bitung Port aboard the ships,” he informed.

The pastor said that the remaining residents, including him and his family, managed to leave the island and reach Manado after more evacuation ships arrived the next day.

The second eruption

On Tuesday (April 30), Mount Ruang erupted once again. While taking shelter in Manado, Jill and Reza maintained contact with the congregants of the Pentecostal church in their home village to get updates on their safety.

Anex Tatulus, a Tagulandang villager, said that the second eruption at 2:35 a.m. WITA forced him to evacuate to Manado once again.

“When Mount Ruang first erupted, my family and I evacuated to Manado. The next week, we were told that the condition of the mountain had started going down (improving), even though the volcano was still spewing smoke. Hence, we returned to Tagulandang,” he added.

His plan upon returning was to check his severely damaged home and start cleaning up the surrounding area. However, a more powerful eruption on April 30 prevented him from carrying out his plan.

“The mountain launched a host of thick ashes to residential areas. Given the threatening situation, we were brought back to Manado by the Search and Rescue Agency using the Bima Sena Ship,” he informed.

After the first eruption, the National SAR Agency (Basarnas) made continual efforts to evacuate affected people.

Deputy for operations at the Manado SAR Office, Jendry Paendong, said that his side strived to evacuate residents to Siau and Manado while paying attention to the actual situation and condition, including the feasibility of available ships.

He informed that SAR teams would be kept on standby to transport residents to safety on the Bima Sena Ship and maintain coordination with the Sitaro district government to verify the exact number of people in need of evacuation.

Zero casualties

No fatalities were recorded following the first and second eruptions of Mount Ruang, according to data shared by the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) and local governments.

“As of Tuesday (April 30) at 3:55 p.m. WIB (Western Indonesian Time), there have been no reports on casualties nor injuries following the second eruption,” said Abdul Muhari, the head of BNPB’s Center for Disaster Data, Information, and Communication.

The second eruption struck Sitaro District with more force than the first one, as evidenced by volcanic materials launched by the mountain managing to reach an emergency post located seven kilometers away from the determined disaster-prone zone.

Fortunately, owing to the high level of preparedness of the residents and authorities, the two eruptions did not lead to casualties or injuries.

The BNPB has affirmed that it will pay serious attention to the measures required to ensure the safety of people inhabiting the two most-affected regions, namely Ruang and Tagulandang Islands.

The agency informed that all residents of the two villages on Ruang Island have been evacuated. Meanwhile, the evacuation of residents of Tagulandang Island is still on since some evacuees returned to the island prior to the second eruption.

According to data from the Manado SAR Office, a total of 1,324 people were evacuated from Tagulandang Island in the period from April 30 to May 1.

Furthermore, a local disaster mitigation agency recorded that the eruptions damaged as many as 3,614 houses across 13 villages.

Since the emergency status of Mount Ruang is still at Level IV, the authorities are continuing to urge people against relaxing their vigilance since the mountain’s volcanic activity has severely affected flight schedules at some airports.

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Editor: Rahmad Nasution
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