There’s a natural disaster trifecta on the Indonesia island of Sulawesi, where a volcano erupted Wednesday, thwarting rescue efforts just days after an earthquake and tsunami tore through, killing at least 1,400 people.
Mount Soputan erupted Wednesday morning, spewing volcanic ash 20,000 feet into the sky.
No immediate evacuation has been ordered, but authorities raised the eruption alert to “standby” status, notifying people to avoid going within 2.5 miles of the summit, and warning that those anywhere near the volcano should have masks in the event of an ash fall.
IMPACT ON RESCUE
The biggest concern with the volcano is how the volcanic ash in the atmosphere will potentially hinder relief efforts in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami. Aid groups were already struggling to reach the thousands of survivors, with about 200,000 people currently in need of urgent help according to the UN’s humanitarian office.
Jens Laerke, from the UN's humanitarian office, said aid workers have been stymied by the trifecta of natural disasters.
"There are still large areas of what might be the worst-affected areas that haven't been properly reached, but the teams are pushing, they are doing what they can," Laerke said.
Rescue crews are racing against time: Indonesia’s disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho announced that authorities are just within the seven day window where rescuing survivors is even a possibility. — allowing only two more days for crews to find those stranded in the rubble.
But Nugroho seems to think the volcano will not significantly thwart rescue efforts.
Although planes have been advised that flying through the ash cloud can be hazardous for their engines, Nugroho dismissed any concerns that it would impact aid plane’s ability to transport supplies in affected areas. Responders are also counting on a relatively optimistic weather forecast of light winds blowing ash in the opposite direction of the most affected disaster zones.
WHAT CAUSED THIS?
Experts are currently assessing the possibility the earthquake triggered the eruption, though there’s evidence to suggest it would have happened either way.
"It could be that this earthquake triggered the eruption, but we have seen an increase in volcanic activity since July and this began surging on Monday. Yet we can't say there a direct link, as the mountain is quite far away," Kasbani, the head of Indonesia's Volcanology and Geology Disaster Mitigation Agency, said on local television.
Still, many experts say this eruption shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Indonesia lays within the seismically active “Ring of Fire” and Soputan is one of the most active volcanoes on the island.
Some scientists had even forecasted the potential volcanic activity earlier in the week.
Experimental volcanologist Robin George Andrews, commented on the speculation in Forbes” "The earthquake almost certainly didn’t trigger the volcanic eruption; it was gearing up for something for several weeks now. There have been a handful of cases where major earthquakes have taken place shortly before volcanic eruptions, but there's not enough concrete evidence to definitely link the two yet."
Cover image: Quake survivors take a break as they salvage items from the debris of a factory complex in Palu in Indonesia's Central Sulawesi on October 3, 2018, after an earthquake and tsunami hit the area on September 28. (Photo by JEWEL SAMAD / AFP) (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)