Magelang. Tourists, apparently, are finding the devastating flow of volcanic mud in the area more interesting than Indonesia’s world-famous Borobudur temple.
Temple officials on Friday said that the volcanic mud, or lahar, which has displaced more than 4,000 people and restricted access to Magelang from Yogyakarta over the past week, has severely affected the number of visitors to the World Heritage-listed site.
Meanwhile, police officials complained that “disaster tourists” are flocking to the lahar-covered highway and worsening the already jammed traffic.
Thousands of cubic meters of lahar were dumped onto the main highway connecting Magelang and Yogyakarta on Sunday by the Putih River, which carried it from the slopes of Mount Merapi.
After two days of alternating single-lane traffic, officials on Friday were finally able to open two lanes of the highway.
Heri Prawoto, the head of the disaster mitigation office in Magelang, said it was necessary to restrict traffic to a single lane to allow the highway to be cleared. Authorities had deployed 100 heavy machines to remove the two-meter-thick layer of volcanic mud, he said.
Heri said it was important that the remaining silt was dredged from Putih River urgently because heavy rains and subsequent lahar floods could come at any time.
Local police said traffic along the Magelang highway above the Putih River had not improved much since the second lane was opened, with traffic jams snaking up to two kilometers long.
“The problems have been exacerbated by the numbers of curious people coming to have a look at the disaster,” said Sr. Comr. Djihartono, a spokesman for the Central Java Police. “We strongly deplore disaster tourism.”
Pujo Suwarno, the head of the Borobudur Tourism Park, said that numbers of visitors to the temple were 70 percent below normal.
“The number of visitors actually started to grow after the initial crisis, when volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Merapi covered most of the stupa and temple floor,” he said. “However, conditions are much worse now.
“On weekdays, the number of visitors used to reach 5,000 a day. These days, the numbers don’t even reach 700,” he said.
Around 85 percent of tourists visiting the Buddhist temple complex come via Yogyakarta. The rest come from the direction of Purworejo and Semarang, via Magelang, Pujo explained.
Merapi’s eruptions in late October and November released 150 million cubic meters of material, much of which is still lying loose around the volcanic cone, posing a serious threat of further lahar flows during the intense rainy season.
Djanu Trepsilo, spokesman for the Magelang administration, said the death toll from the lahar flood had now reached three people, while 165 others were being treated in hospital.