As of today, news reports indicate that Indonesia's Mount Merapi volcano has killed at least 283 people since it began erupting in October. Reportedly, more than 270,000 people are still living in makeshift camps to escape the lava flows and hot ash falls. Merapi killed some 1,300 in 1930, but experts say the current eruptions are the most severe since 1872. Merapi is the most active Indonesia volcano in a vast archipelago of 235 million people spread along the well-known “Ring of Fire”. About 90% of the world's earthquakes, and 80% of the world's largest earthquakes, occur along this ring. The Ring of Fire is a direct result of plate tectonics and the movement and collisions of crustal plates.
Life for those living near Indonesia's Mt. Merapi remains dangerous and difficult. Volcano scientists (volcanologists) believe that the eruptions are lessening, but they certainly can't guarantee the area won’t experience additional eruptions. Like earthquake predictions, volcanology involves lots of educated guessing. And like a lot of lessons in life, it matters who does the “guessing.”
One news report from a week ago interviewed Subandriyo, an Indonesian government volcanologist. At that time he estimated that the eruptions had disgorged approximately 4.6 billion cubic feet of rocks, sand, dust and gas. The thick ash fall has been destroying crops or even structures from its sheer weight. Pyroclastic flows of gas at hundreds of degrees F often follow river beds or depressions and hit communities that are adjacent to those waterways.
Subandriyo and his team actually predicted Mt. Merapi's eruption, including which way the searing gases and rocks would flow. "Our modeling was good, and the preparations for evacuation were good," he says, pointing to detailed maps. "The problem was with communication — in other words, disseminating the information to the people."
Actually, it appears that communication was not the primary problem, at least in some areas. It’s what people did with the knowledge available to them.
Subandriyo claimed that a man named Marijan, the spiritual guardian of the mountain, is partly to blame. Subandriyo notified Marijan that an eruption was coming, but Marijan's contacts in the spirit world told him otherwise. So, many villagers took no precautions. Marijan was found burned to death in his home, as were other villagers. Now the sultan of the region must select a new guardian for Mt. Merapi.
I’m not necessarily casting stones. I’ve seen too many U.S. Christians claim they had good reason for not following common sense advice or lines of evidence supported by at least reasonably sound science. I’m just saying…