Volcanoes in the Philippines and Indonesia are threatening to erupt. In the central Philippines, the Mayon volcano puffsout gas and ash, as scientists warn that it may erupt sometime in February. Last year, it drove 68,000 people from their homes. There have also been minor earthquakes around the 8,100 foot mountain.
Its most violent eruption occurred in 1814, when it killed more than 1,200 people and buried an entire town in volcanicmud.
On Mount Merapi, in Indonesia, a team of 63 scientists are working around the clock, gathering information on the stateof the volcano. They have built a bunker with thick concrete walls and metal doors, lined with water canisters andoxygen tanks, where they plan to take shelter in case of a sudden eruption. Merapi has spit out billows of smoke and hotlava during the past two weeks.
Hundreds of thousands of people live on the slopes of the mountain, with many others living in the valleys below it.Mount Merapi stands in the heart of densely populated Java, Indonesia’s main island.
During its last eruption, in 1994, people were given an hour’s warning. Sixty-six people, who were unable to escape intime, died. Last year, two Indonesian volcanologists, an Israeli and 3 American scientists were injured during aneruption of nearby Mount Semeru.
In an effort to slow down lava flows from Merapi, the government has built steel-reinforced concrete dams in the valleys leading to densely populated areas and warning sirens have been set up in villages.
Indonesia has 500 volcanoes, more than any other nation. At least 129 of them are active, and observation posts operateat 60 of the most dangerous ones. Two of the most devastating eruptions in recorded history, of Krakatau and Tambora, occurred there in the 19th century, killing a total of 128,000 people. If a similar blast were to happen today, thedeath toll would be higher, because the population of Indonesia is now 210 million. “Hundreds of thousands of peoplewould be killed now if we had a Krakatau-type eruption,” says Indonesian volcanologist Syamsul Rizal.
Karkatau’s explosion in 1883 was heard 2,500 miles away in Australia. Tambora’s eruption in 1815 threw enough dust andash into the atmosphere to block many of the sun’s rays and lower global temperatures, causing 1816 to become known inEurope and the U.S. as “the year without summer.”
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