We focus in this paper on the processes and consequences of an unusual volcanic eruption at Kelut volcano, East Java. In November 2007, after two months of worrying precursor signs, Kelut volcano erupted. But neither explosions nor the usual hazards observed during the historic eruptions happened (e.g. ash falls, volcanic bombs and pyroclastic flows). Instead of an explosive eruption, the 2007 eruption was extrusive. Given than such an eruption could not be predicted, the authorities had to manage a new situation. We conducted interviews with nine stakeholders of the crisis management team, and undertook a questionnaire-based survey in the settlement nearest to the crater, in order to understand how the authorities managed the crisis, and how people reacted. Inquiries and questionnaires were carried out shortly after the end of the evacuation process, when the volcano was still under surveillance for fear of an explosive phase. The results display a real gap in what it takes to manage a crisis or live through a crisis. This suggests that the “unusual” eruption pattern of Kelut volcano was not the only factor of the misunderstanding between the authorities and the population. These problems stem from more structural causes such as the lack of communication and information when there is a need to adapt to a new scenario. In such a situation, the inability of the crisis management system to take decisions underscored the intrinsic vulnerability of the population despite a hierarchical and strategic top-down crisis management approach.
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