Written by Staff Writer
Christian Head, CNN
It’s not an easy job, but with the task in hand, Simon Cleary never hesitates to tackle the boulders blocking his way, carrying huge jugs and heavy sacks of gravel.
Cleary is a volunteer with the Vanar, the ground-penetrating radar unit, which is part of a unique humanitarian operation to reach victims of Indonesia’s recent Mount Semeru eruptions .
“It’s very difficult work,” said Cleary, who works out of London’s University of Warwick and is also involved in a colleague’s project mapping the caves beneath King Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt.
“(We) use pincers to take out boulders. At the end of the day, we often have to wait for daylight to dig through them because there’s no way to see what we’re going through — except for the size of the boulders.
“There are a lot of boulders from the volcano’s last eruptions that are stacked up as high as we can get until they drain out.”
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Indonesia’s Mount Semeru last erupted on December 15, sending hundreds of locals fleeing in fear. Cleary traveled to Bali, the closest region to the disaster zone, to gather data and to secure funding.
“Indonesia is one of the most volcanically active countries in the world and there have been multiple eruptions in the last few months,” he said.
“Mount Bromo in East Java Province recently erupted which resulted in one death. They (volcanologists) had previously written it off, but this belated eruption raised the profile and got people aware of the threat.”
To reach Everest base camp, team members’ vehicles were buried by boulders — creating a barrier for members of their team.
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Cleary and his team receive training in Indonesia in preparation for sending over their radar equipment — which is used to uncover the size and geometry of underground structures.
The latest information they gather could serve as vital data to help find survivors after an eruption.
“We have found that these basins that are found to contain heavy rainwater are very common in Sumatra because they only last for about two to three months,” he said.
“When they dry out, or when the rain moves through, there are deposits of volcanic ash inside.”
Cleary and his colleagues could be returning to Sumatra as soon as February.