Inaccurate information about poisonous gases said to be spewing from all craters of Mount Dieng in Central Java has caused a sharp drop in visitors to the area, officials said on Thursday.
Winarno Sudjas from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism told the Jakarta Globe that soon after reports were published that the entire Dieng plateau was emitting poisonous gases, tourism there dropped to 70 percent of the normal average of 1,500 visitors per day.
“It is very important that the PVMBG informs the public again in detail about Mount Dieng’s status — about the danger zone and the places that the people can and cannot visit,” he said, referring to the Volcanology and Geographical Disaster Mitigation Agency.
The Dieng Plateau is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Central Java. It combines culture and nature as it is the site of eight small Hindu temples from the 7th and 8th centuries, while it is also the location of colorful sulfur lakes.
Mount Dieng has six craters: Sileri, Siglagah, Condrodimuko, Sikidang, Sinila and Timbang. According to scientists, the latter two are the most active.
PVMBG chief Surono said on Thursday that the only dangerous area at the Dieng Plateau was that surrounding the Timbang crater. “It is not true that all the craters in Mount Dieng cannot be visited. In fact, the only place that cannot be visited is the Timbang crater,” Surono said.
He added that the PVMBG had declared a one-kilometer radius around that specific crater off-limits to the public .
The other craters can safely be visited, Surono said, because the Timbang crater emissions do not pose a threat for locations outside of the designated radius.
Umar Rosadi, the head of the Emergency Response Team at the PVMBG, said the level of carbon dioxide in the air at the Timbang crater had a volume percentage of 1.65 on Thursday. A percentage greater than 0.5 is dangerous for humans.
Just like carbon monoxide, which is also being emitted at the crater, carbon dioxide is colorless, odorless and toxic at high levels. The gases are difficult to trace. The Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) has been distributing face masks to people in the area.
Since Sunday, the government has relocated more than 1,100 people living in the area to shelters in nearby Batur subdistrict.
Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), said the agency is assisting its local branch office in drawing up contingency plans.
According to Sutopo, the BNPB has given the local office Rp 250 million ($29,000) to buy food for people in the shelters.