Ghost Town in the shadow of Mount Sinabung

Many of you will already be aware of the news surrounding Moung Agung in recent weeks. This active volcano in Bali has had increasing activity creating much fear and anxiety and uprooting thousands of people as the threat level has soared. No one knows when or if it will blow and this uncertainty is likely to continue for the next few months or even years.

This situation is not a novel one and is sadly quite a common occurrence around Indonesia, a country with more volcanoes than any other country in the world.

Another example which is far less common knowledge is currently happening near Mount Sinabung, in Berestagi, Sumatra. Both Mount Sinabung and Agung lie in the “Ring of Fire” a belt around the Pacific Ocean which contains 75 percent of Earth’s volcanoes.

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Mount Sinabung once housed many thousands of people throughout 4 separate villages and over 1000 houses. After being inactive for over four centuries a very large eruption in 2010, several in 2014 and 2015 and continuing activity daily has meant that the surrounding towns were evacuated and the houses, schools and building have lain empty ever since. 

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Unlike Mount Agung the first eruption in 2010 occurred without any prior warning. Fortunately there were no casualties during this eruption but Mount Sinabung has since claimed the lives of at least 30 people.

Yesterday I had a most unique and surreal opportunity to visit this “Ghost Town”. The entire area is now under high alert with military standing by to ensure that people stay at least 7km away and signs warning that it’s a disaster prone area.

We were extremely lucky as there were no military barricades on the road to Barastapu, one of the surviving villages, so we were able to get to the town right at the foot of Mount Sinabung. 

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The road to the town is windy and green and the volcano looks stunning in the background as it rests. You would never guess the anguish and terror that it is causing until you get closer and start seeing the disrepair and destruction.

Despite the exclusion zone there are still a few locals who continue to visit the area during the day, whether it be to return to their previous houses or to tend to their land and animals. Dogs and cows still roam the empty streets and the houses lie desolate with many destroyed. During the night however everybody leaves as they would have no warning should the volcano decide to erupt. 

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Small ash explosions are common from Sinabung and occur about 4-5 times a day. We witnessed 3 such eruptions during our stay in Berestagi. One small one while we were in the ghost town, a larger one after we’d left and then an even bigger one than that this morning. 

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These small eruptions result in a huge plume of dark ash emitting from the volcano crater. You can’t usually feel the eruption but you can hear and see it. The surrounding areas become covered in ash and the closer you get to the volcano the thicker it lies untouched over everything.

It was extremely sad to see the discarded toys, clothes and other items strewn throughout the streets and houses. The doors of many houses remained open showing the destruction that lay beyond with plants already established across walls and through windows.

We came across the old abandoned school now devoid of children’s laughter and learning and ash coated desks that now lie empty with chalk strewn across the floor.

This experience was eye-opening. It made me realise the devastation and uncertainty that volcanoes can cause and that the effects of them can last a lifetime. 

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Have a watch of our video below to get a better idea about what how this once thriving town has been turned into a shell of its former self in the wake of Mount Sinabung.

We also have a photo album with more images taken in the town.

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