Indonesians abandon plantations near volcano

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KEDIRI, Indonesia, Oct 24 (Reuters) Indonesian workers around the rumbling Mount Kelud volcano in East Java are unable to harvest cloves and coffee because they are being evacuated from plantations, a plantation firm official said today.

Ade Prasetyo, a manager at state-owned PTPN XII which has plantations of coffee, cacao, clove and various woods, said the company had evacuated more than 200 workers from three of its seven plantations to safer areas.

''We have evacuated 225 workers from three plantation areas to a safer place. We have not incurred any loss, but if the eruption is the same as it was in 1990, we expect a loss of 7 billion rupiah,'' Prasetyo told Reuters.

The total area of the three plantations -- which produce coffee, cloves and various woods -- is 1,200 hectares. The company has seven plantation areas, occupying a total of 3,952 hectares and employing 700 workers.

Authorities were evacuating residents living within a 10-km (6-mile) zone around the 1,731-metre volcano to safer areas after experts said Mount Kelud was liable to erupt.

The order to evacuate more than 100,000 people was made after officials declared a maximum alert at the volcano, just 90 km southwest of Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city.

The Jakarta Post today reported that other plantation companies were evacuating their workers too.

Yohannes Slamet, the director of PT Tjandi Sewu, whose 650-hectare plantation lies just 5 km from the volcano, told the Jakarta Post the firm had been forced to stop productioneven though it was harvest season for coffee and cloves.

''We are incurring daily losses of 4.6 million rupiah for halting production, while having to continue paying the salaries of 70 employees and 400 contract workers,'' Slamet told the newspaper.

Some of Slamet's contract workers defied warnings and worked during the day, returning to the shelter at night.

RELUCTANT TO LEAVE Many residents living near the volcano have refused to leave their homes, saying they know how to survive an eruption.

''Generals or president, they must know that people here know how to save themselves,'' said coffee picker Rismawati outside her house, where her family runs a small stationery shop.

''Our ancestors have taught us how to adjust to the characters of Kelud.'' Many locals are reluctant to leave, fearing for their possessions and being unable to work to feed their families.

''When dark clouds have gathered at the top of Kelud, I will run to that hill,'' said farmer Wagiran, pointing to a 300-metre hill.

Saut Situmorang, head of the volcanology observation centre, said the number of tremors at the volcano had decreased although the temperature continued to increase gradually.

''The question is now whether there's enough energy for the magma to shoot through the crater,'' he told Reuters.

An estimated 350,000 people live within 10 km of the volcano, growing coffee, sugar cane, pineapples and papayas in the rich volcanic soil.

PT Gudang Garam, Indonesia's major cigarette maker which has its main production facilities about 25 km west of Mount Kelud, said its production remained normal.

''There has been no significant impact so far despite whathappens at Kelud. Both production and distribution remain normal,'' Gudang Garam spokeswoman Vidya Rahayu told Reuters.

When Kelud last erupted in 1990 at least 30 people were killed, while in 1919 about 5,000 died as the volcano spewed scalding water from its crater lake.

Indonesia, which sits on a belt of intense seismic activity known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, has had a series of major volcanic eruptions over the centuries.

Reuters SG GC1646

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