Clouds of volcanic ash from Anak Krakatau, or child of Krakatau, have become so prominent in recent days that Indonesian authorities have issued a warning for local residents and tourists.
“The ash was carried by wind from the southeast to the south, reaching Bandarlampung,” Nurhuda, head of the observation and information section of the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) in Lampung province told state news agency Antara.
The major population center of Bandarlampung is the capital of the Lampung province and is the same distance from the volcano as the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.
“We also advise fishermen and tourists not to come within a radius of 3 kilometers of Anak Krakatau. The thick plumes of smoke sent off by Krakatau contain toxic material that is hazardous for your health,” said Andi Suhardi, head of the Anak Krakatau observation post in Hargo Pancuran village.
Officials advised residents to wear masks when traveling outdoors to protect themselves against the ash. Short term effects of volcanic ash could include respiratory discomfort, including nose and throat irritation. Those with pre-existing respiratory conditions could be susceptible to more long term effects.
In addition to having negative effects on the human population, volcanic ash has also been proven to be harmful to livestock. The ash has been observed causing cosmetic damage, such as abrasion of the teeth, as well as more dire impacts like fluorine poisoning from the heighten levels of hydrogen fluoride found in volcanic debris. Following the 1995 Mount Ruapehu eruptions in New Zealand, two thousand sheep died after being affected by fluorosis while grazing on land littered with the ash. The added weight of ash in the animals’ wool also led to widespread fatigue affecting the flocks.
Observations of Anak Krakatau could be hinting toward a major eruption as the volcanology office in Bandung has recorded almost 90 eruptions per day over the past week. In addition, Nurhuda added that the volcano has been observed spewing red hot lava up almost 1000 feet above its peak in recent days.
A major eruption of the tiny island volcano would be the first one for Indonesia since the eruption of Mount Merapi. In October 2010, the Indonesian government sounded the alarm regarding Mount Merapi and warned villagers in threatened areas to move to safe areas. The evacuation orders affected at least 19,000 people, but by the time volcanic activity had subsided, over 350,000 people were displaced.
The eruptions would eventually claim the lives of 353 people with a number of victims succumbing to severe burns and some bodies being found on the volcano’s slopes. The mountain continued to erupt until November 2010 and on December 3rd the official alert status was reduced to level 3, from level 4, the highest possible level.
After the eruptions at Mount Merapi subsided, officials declared them the worst the country had seen since the 1870s. In addition to death, damage and displacement, the volcanic activity also disrupted air travel, grounding flights from Indonesia and Australia for over a month.