Mt. Kelud (also spelled Kelut) is a 1731-meter-high (5,679 feet-high) stratovolcano in East Java. It erupted in the 1920s killing more than 5,000 people. The disaster led to the founding of the Direktorat Vulkunologi in Indonesia. Kelud volcanic lake was drained by drilling a hole in the crater wall after the lake was deemed a flood threat that could kill hundreds of people. A similar strategy was tried on a lake in the crater of Pinatabu in the Philippines.

Kelud is about 200 kilometers east of Yogyakarta and 600 kilometers east of Jakarta. In February 2014, Mt. Kelud spewed ash and sand over a 10-kilometer radius, grounding flights and affecting 200,000 people. Major tourist attractions in Yogyakarta and Central Java, including Borobudur, Prambanan and Ratu Boko, were closed after being severely affected by the volcanic ash from the eruption of Kelud, which is located around 200 kilometers east of Yogyakarta. Noise from the eruption could be heard as far away as Yogyakarta. Kelud's last major eruption before that was in 1990, when it kicked out searing fumes and lava that killed more than 30 people and injured hundreds. In 1919, a powerful explosion that reportedly could be heard hundreds of kilometers away killed at least 5,160 people.

Relatively inconspicuous, Kelud volcano is one of East Java's most active volcanoes. The volcano has a spectacular large crater that contains a lake, which was a popular weekend destination but also the origin of devastating mud flows (lahars). In 2007, a new lava dome grew within the lake to form an island, replacing most of the water. A cluster of summit lava domes cut by numerous craters has given the summit a very irregular profile. Satellitic cones and lava domes are also located low on the eastern, western, and south-southwest flanks. [Source: Volcano Discovery]

Kelud' has a reputation of being a mountain that blows its top dramatically but then quickly settles down for another 10 years or so. But when it erupts it presents a serious danger as water from its crater, along with rain, can bring deadly landslides and lahars river beds into villages and valleys.

Websites and Sources on Volcanoes: USGS Volcanoes volcanoes.usgs.gov ; Volcano World volcano.oregonstate.edu ; Volcanoes.com volcanoes.com ; Wikipedia Volcano article Wikipedia , Smithsonian Global Volcanism Program volcano.si.edu operated by the Smithsonian has descriptions of volcanoes around the globe and a catalog of over 8,000 eruptions in the last 10,000 years.

Kelud Eruptions

Kelut is notorious among Indonesia's volcanoes for its violent, and often deadly explosive eruptions. Over the past six centuries Kelud has erupted at least thirty times and has been responsible for approximately 15,000 fatalities. On May 19, 1919 it was the site of one of the deadliest volcanic eruptions of the twentieth century, killing over 5160 people when water was ejected from its large crater lake formed lethal lahars that travelled nearly 40 kilometres and destroyed more than 100 villages. An eruption in 1586 is believed to have caused even more than 10,000 fatalities. Typical eruption style: Explosive. Lava domes, pyroclastic flows. Presence of extensive crater lake at low elevation, generating destructive lahars. [Source: Volcano Discovery ~~, Volcanism blog]

More than 30 eruptions have been recorded from Gunung Kelud since A.D. 1000. Kelud volcano eruptions: 1500, 1548, 1586 (sub-Plinian eruption, 1641 (sub-Plininan eruption), 1716, 1752, 1756, 1771, 1776, 1785, 1811, 1825, 1826, 1835, 1848, 1849, 1864, 1901, 1919, 1920, 1951, 1966, 1967, 1990, Oct-Nov 2007, 13 Feb 2014. ~~

Eruptive activity has in general migrated in a clockwise direction around the summit vent complex. The ejection of water from the crater lake during Kelud's typically short, but violent eruptions has created pyroclastic flows and lahars that have caused widespread fatalities and destruction. ~~

After more than 5000 persons were killed during an eruption in 1919, an ambitious engineering project sought to drain the crater lake. This initial effort lowered the lake by more than 50 meters, but the 1951 eruption deepened the crater by 70 meters, leaving 50 million cubic meters of water after repair of the damaged drainage tunnels. After more than 200 deaths in the 1966 eruption, a new deeper tunnel was constructed, and the lake's volume before the 1990 eruption was only about 1 million cubic meters. ~~

Kelud Eruption in 2014 Kills Four Forces 100,000 to Evacuate

In February 2104, an explosive volcanic eruption from Kelud ejected ash and debris 20 kilometers into the air, killing four people—including a 97-year-old woman when the roofs of their homes caved in under the weight of ash—and forcing authorities to evacuate more than 100,000 people to temporary shelters and close seven airports. The overnight eruption could be heard in Yogyakarta, 200 kilometers away, "The eruption sounded like thousands of bombs exploding," Ratno Pramono, a 35-year-old farmer, told Associated Press after returning from an evacuation center to check on his property in the village of Sugihwaras, around three miles from the crater. "I thought doomsday was upon us. Women and children were screaming and crying." [Source: Associated Press, February 14, 2014]

Associated Press reported: “A 60-year-old man and a 65-year-old woman were killed in the village of Pandansari near the mountain when the roofs of their homes collapsed under the weight of the ash and volcanic debris unleashed during the eruption, the disaster agency said. A 70-year-old man died after being hit by a collapsed wall while waiting to be evacuated from the same village, where the volcanic ash reached 8 inches deep in some places.

Ash and grit fell to earth in towns and cities across the region, including Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city after Jakarta, with a population of about 3 million. It also fell even farther afield in Yogyakarta, where motorists switched on headlights in daylight, and lay two inches deep in some places. The large international airport in Surabaya and airports in the cities of Yogyakarta, Solo, Bandung, Semarang and Cilacap were closed due to reduced visibility and the dangers posed to aircraft engines by ash, Transport Ministry spokesman Bambang Ervan said. Virgin Australia said it had canceled its Friday flights from Australia to several locations due to the eruption, including the resort islands of Bali in Indonesia and Phuket in Thailand.

The 5,680-foot-high Mount Kelud had been rumbling for several weeks and was under close observation. Muhammad Hendrasto, head of Indonesia's volcano monitoring agency, said the mountain erupted violently about 90 minutes after authorities raised its alert status to the highest level. The disaster agency said it had spewed millions of cubic meters of debris into the atmosphere. The disaster agency said tremors were still wracking the volcano, but that scientists didn't expect another major eruption. It said all villages within 10 kilometers of Kelud — more than 100,000 people — had been evacuated to temporary shelters, but that some villagers were returning to their homes to begin cleaning up.

Kediri, a normally bustling town about 19 miles from the mountain, was largely deserted as residents stayed indoors to avoid the choking ash. "The smell of sulfur and ash hung so thickly in the air that breathing was painful," said Kediri resident Insaf Wibowo. Some residents were shoveling the ash and grit into sacks to use for the construction of buildings or to fertilize crops. One collector said that middlemen had already told him they would pay up to $56 for a small truck filled with the debris.

After the imminent danger was over Associated Press reported: Army troops enforced a ban on people returning to houses within 10 kilometers (6 miles) of the volcano, but many people sneaked back to check on livestock and clean up. Authorities were finding it hard to prevent people from returning, given the money farmers stand to lose by staying away, and said about 56,000 people remained in 89 shelters."Our cows need to be milked. If they aren't, they can get sick and die," said Marjito, who was riding on a motorbike with his wife to his village around 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the crater. "We have so much work to do, including running and hiding from security officers," said his wife, Dinayah. A massive cleanup was underway in the region, where millions of homes received ash fall. Police and soldiers used water cannons to clear roads that in places were covered in up to 10 centimeters (4 inches) of white ash. Supporters of political parties campaigning for April elections, wearing party colors, also chipped in and gave out food, seeking to win votes on the back of their assistance. Many people were wearing face masks to protect against the dust that remained in the air. [Source: Niniek Karmini, Associated Press, February 15, 2014]

Lava Dome Activity at Kelud in 2007

In November 2007, Kelud spat out fresh clouds of smoke as scientists warned a major eruption was imminent News agencies reported: “Kelud has been on the highest alert level for more than two weeks, but since Friday scientists have been warning an eruption may be imminent based on the frequency of tremors shaking the mountain and the temperature of it lake. The temperature of the crater lake on Mount Kelud was so great that nearby monitoring equipment was no longer working, said Surono, one of 16 volcanologists watching over the peak 24 hours a day. Despite the threat, there was little sense of panic on Kelud's slopes, witnesses said. [Source: Agencies, November 6, 2007]

“While several thousand people have fled to government shelters, authorities said that around 25,000 others were ignoring evacuation orders and remained in the danger zone around Kelud. Officials have made no attempts to prevent people from traveling inside a 10-kilometer (6-mile) zone around the peak that the local government say is off-limits. "I feel it is OK to stay here," said Sukirno, who was tending papaya plants some 7 kilometers (4 miles) from the peak. "No one can guarantee our safety apart from ourselves."

"If it goes this time, it will be much larger than in 1990," said Surono, basing his prediction on the number of tremors and the lake temperature — both of which have been way higher than in the days preceding the earlier blast. The team monitoring the volcano have also said an eruption may be small or gradual — or might not happen at all given the unpredictable nature of the 5,679-foot mountain. Around 70 kilometers (40 miles) southeast of Kelud, Mount Semeru was also putting on a display, sending out ash clouds high into the air, witnesses said. The peak was on the second highest alert, meaning no evacuations are ordered. Anak Krakatoa off the northern tip of Java island was spitting out hot stones and lava as well as rolling clouds of ash, television footage showed. It was also on the second highest alert.

In the end nothing major happened. Peter Gelling wrote in the New York Times, “Scientists had feared the worst because a layer of cooled lava had formed over the bubbling magma beneath the volcano’s crater, trapping a tremendous amount of pressure. But that layer had since cracked and was beginning to release the pressure. “Anyone more than three kilometers from the crater is allowed to return,” said Pak Surono, chief volcanologist for Mount Kelud. “The mountain is erupting slowly. There will be no explosive eruption that could threaten those living nearby.” [Source: Peter Gelling, New York Times, November 10, 2007]

Living in the Shadow of Kelud

Reporting from Kali Bladar, near Kelud, Peter Gelling wrote in the New York Times, “For about a month, Ibu Suwarni’s life has been interrupted by Mount Kelud. The mountain was giving every indication that a major eruption was imminent, with clouds of white smoke billowing as the temperature of its crater lake spiked as high as 169 degrees. The water around the volcano was so hot by mid-October that Ms. Suwarni and the hundreds of others in this town on eastern Java who make their living mining for sand and rocks from nearby rivers had to stop working. Then, when scientists recorded an intense series of volcanic tremors, residents were ordered to evacuate. [Source: Peter Gelling, New York Times, November 10, 2007 ^/^]

“Her family of four, along with about 600 other people, moved into a government refugee camp six miles from the steaming crater lake. They joined thousands of others who had already been living in refugee camps in the vicinity since Kelud began amassing energy deep within its belly a few weeks earlier. Thousands of others defied the order, refusing to leave their homes and crops, while in Ms. Suwarni’s camp, nearly a hundred people crowded a single tent every night and children played in ankle-deep mud outside, inevitably chased back inside by deafening thunder, nearby lightning and torrents of rain. “I want to go back; I want my life back,” Ms. Suwarni said earlier this week as the electricity flickered on and off. “We’ve been waiting for so long.” Her wait ended when scientists reduced the alert at Kelud from its highest level and allowed most villagers to go back to their homes.” ^/^

“Even those who have gone back to their homes cannot return to the work that provided them with a meager 80 cents a day. The mountain rivers they mined for valuable rocks and sand are still scalding hot, and noxious gas continues to spew from Kelud. It is anyone’s guess when Kelud will start amassing energy again. Refugee tents remain, and search and rescue teams stay ready. Volcanologists have raised and reduced the alert level here so many times in the past month that residents are bewildered. “It is frustrating and confusing,” said Budi Rianto, the town’s mayor. “All you can do is wait and hope we make the right decision.” ^/^

“Many of those who evacuated did so after they saw the warnings on television. “This is the first time there has ever been an evacuation,” Ibu Misyen, a 40-year-old grandmother who has lived through three eruptions, told the New York Times. “We could see the signs: the smell of sulfur, the warm air and hot water. But we wouldn’t have left if the government didn’t tell us to.” Some villagers release live swans into its rivers to help appease what they believe is a love-scorned prince living within. ^/^

“When the police announced through a bullhorn on Thursday that Ms. Suwarni and the others could return to their homes, the camp leaped with activity. Ms. Suwarni stuffed her few belongings into a bag, collected her children and began the walk back seemingly in one motion. The camp was empty in less than an hour. “I am so happy to go back,” she said, the hot river still steaming beside her, a cloud of poisonous gas still obscuring the mountain’s top. “It is always dangerous living here, but it’s better than starting over someplace else.” ^/^

For many of the millions of people affected by the 2014 Kelud eruption, the event provided a means for making money and fertilizer for their crops. "This is a blessing of the disaster," Imam Choiri, a farmer who was scraping up the ash from the road to use as fertilizer on his small vegetable plot a few kilometers from the crater of the rumbling mountain, told Associated Press. Choiri said locals believe the ash helps drive away pests from crops. Volcanic ash and debris are also prized in the building industry because they make especially strong cement, and sand diggers can charge almost twice as much per load than they can for regular sand. Scores of diggers were collecting the fresh, easy-to-dig sand, packing the windfall into bags or onto trucks. "Kelud is a valuable source of livelihood to me and my family," Harjito Huda, a sand miner from Ngancar village, said. [Source: Niniek Karmini, Associated Press, February 15, 2014]

Kelud’s Catastrophic 1919 Eruption

On 19 May 1919 Kelud was the site of one of the deadliest volcanic eruptions of the twentieth century, killing over 5100 people when water ejected from the crater lake formed lethal lahars that travelled nearly 40 kilometres and destroyed more than 100 villages. The powerful explosion reportedly could be heard hundreds of kilometers away. According to Volcanism blog: “The 1919 eruption is interesting not only for itself but for the response it generated. At the time Java was under Dutch colonial rule, and the Dutch authorities reacted to the disaster both institutionally, by establishing the forerunner of today’s Indonesian volcanological authority, and technologically, by creating a drainage system intended to manage the hazard posed by the crater lake. [Source: Volcanism blog]

The presence of a substantial crater lake has been the main reason why Kelud is a very lahar-prone volcano, but also significant are its deeply eroded flanks and abundance of loose sediment. During the May 1919 eruption 38 million cubic metres of water was expelled from the crater lake, radiating out through the deep drainage channels and accumulating vast quantities of sediment and volcanic material to produce fast-moving lahars that inundated over 30 square kilometres of the surrounding countryside.

Even before the 1919 catastrophe the colonial authorities recognized the danger Kelud posed and had, in 1905, constructed a dyke intended to protect the nearby city of Blitar. The 1919 lahars, however, overwhelmed this construction. The Dutch response was to abandon the mitigation of lahars and concentrate instead on preventing them developing by enabling the drainage of the crater lake. The work took until 1926 to complete: a system of seven drainage tunnels was constructed, which reduced the volume of the lake by more than 2 million cubic metres, lowering the level by 50 metres.

In 1951 the volcano erupted again, but the successful operation of the drainage system meant that little water was present in the crater and no lahars resulted. A second catastrophe had been averted. The eruption itself, however, deepened the lake and destroyed the drainage tunnels. Only after another deadly eruption in 1966, in which more than 200 people died, was a new deeper tunnel excavated. The most recent large-scale eruption, in 1990, would certainly have been much more destructive to life and property had the crater lake not been largely drained. The autumn 2007 eruption built a lava dome that fills the crater lake site and has overwhelmed the drainage inlets. Volcanic lake specialists at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium are currently collaborating with the Volcanological Survey of Indonesia in monitoring Kelud. Le volcan Kelud – account of the 1919 eruption and a detailed history, with illustrations, of the various drainage systems built since to drain the crater lake (in French).

Mt. Bromo

Mount Bromo (near the town of Probolinggo, two hours from Surabaya) is a 2,329-meter-high (7,641 foot-high),very active volcanic peak. One of Java’s most popular tourist destinations, it lies at the top of a massive volcano known as Tengger with other volcanic peaks inside a "Sea of Sand”—a huge 5½ miles long and 4½ miles wide caldera filled with fine black volcanic debris. Although Bromo doesn't erupt with the deadly force that Mt. Merapti does it is still dangerous.

Mt. Bromo (meaning "The Fire") is a 650-foot-high cone striped with yellow sulphur deposits. Smoke is constantly spilling out of the crater. Periodically it erupts small amounts of ash and debris. Bromo is one of three major craters and many more minor ones that emerge from the Sea of Sand. One is called Bataok ("The Bride"). It is 2,440 meters high. The quiescent one with the perfect cone is Kursi ("The Cup"). It is 2,581 meters high.

Bromo is a stratovolcano and an active cone inside the giant Tengger caldera, one of Indonesia's most scenic locations destination in East Java, famous for its magnificient sunrise views and the panorama over the caldera with Semeru volcano in the background.

Mt. Bromo is sacred to the Tenggerese people of eastern Java, many of whom live on Tengger’s slopes. During the Kasada Festival they make offerings of animals, meat, money and vegetables to encourage the volcano to keep it calm (See Festivals). When the volcano starts to rumble, the local population doesn't try to escape, instead they go to the top to make offerings to placate the volcano God.

The Tenggerese and other people in the region have attached a number of myths to the mountain. According to one Tenggerese story the caldera was created by an ogre—in love with a princess—who dug out the whole thing with half of a coconut shell. The Tenggerese believe that the childless rulers of a small kingdom—King Joko Seger and Queen Roro—asked the god of the volcano. He fulfilled the request with 25 children but demanded that the youngest and most handsome one, Dian Kesuma, be offered as a sacrifice. When the queen refused to go along, Dian bravely offered himself to save the kingdom.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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