For exactly 10 years nothing and no one has been able to stem a terrifying flow of hot mud in Indonesia.

Since it started in May 2006, the Sidoarjo Mudflow - the biggest mud volcano in the world - has buried entire villages and left 40,000 people homeless in Surabaya, a major port city in East Java.

Today, the devastated wasteland has become a dark and unlikely tourist attraction, drawing visitors keen to witness the ongoing flow of mud that may never be fully contained.

Visitors watch smoke coming out from the mudflow during the tenth anniversary of the mudflow eruption. Photo / Getty Images
Visitors watch smoke coming out from the mudflow during the tenth anniversary of the mudflow eruption. Photo / Getty Images

The cause of the mudflow has been fiercely disputed. Some scientists have blamed a distant earthquake, but most people pointed to drilling by an Indonesian oil and gas company that has agreed to pay compensation to victims.

Advertisement

Whatever the cause, once the hot mud started to gush from a exploratory well in May 2006, it didn't stop.

By September 2006, the mud flow had inundated villages and destroyed rice paddies, sugarcane fields and even a major highway. In November that year, an underground gas pipeline at the site exploded and killed 13 people.

In all, the mudflow caused about 20 deaths, according to some reports. About 40,000 people from eight villages were forced to flee Sidoarjo, leaving abandoned factories and livelihoods in their wake.

The remains of a factory destroyed by the mudflow. Photo / Getty Images
The remains of a factory destroyed by the mudflow. Photo / Getty Images

The mud continues to spurt out the equivalent of 10 Olympic swimming pools of hot, stinking sludge each day, according to AFP. An area roughly equivalent to 650 soccer fields is buried beneath up to 40m of sludge.

According to reports, damages from the mudflow have topped $3.8 billion.

An abandoned house destroyed by mudflow. Photo / Getty Images
An abandoned house destroyed by mudflow. Photo / Getty Images

Over the years dams and barriers - including huge concrete balls - have been set up to lessen the flow of the mud, but they have been unable to stem it completely.

More recently, the spectacle has drawn busloads of curious travellers who tour the disaster zone - which is now covered by a lake of mud about 40 metres deep - and pose for selfies next to faceless, drowning statues that represent the human toll of the mudflow.

Residents of villages praying together at the site of the mudflow to mark 10 years since it began. Photo / Getty Images
Residents of villages praying together at the site of the mudflow to mark 10 years since it began. Photo / Getty Images

"I was very intrigued," Andri, a tourist from Surabaya, told AFP.

"I really wanted to see how big the mud was, because I had heard many houses were buried."

Struggling locals who continue to live near the mudflow are earning what they can from the appeal of tourists.

An artist, Novi, uses mud to paint tributes on the 10th anniversary of the mudflow eruption. Photo / Getty Images
An artist, Novi, uses mud to paint tributes on the 10th anniversary of the mudflow eruption. Photo / Getty Images

"This is the only way to earn a living and afford school for my kids," one villager, named Harwati, told AFP.

"After my village was flooded, there were no jobs."

The idea of turning the disaster zone into a lucrative tourist attraction seems to have been first floated by Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2010.

Statues honouring the mudflow victims. Photo / Getty Images
Statues honouring the mudflow victims. Photo / Getty Images

"With good layout and good concepts, we can turn this place into something useful for the community, whether as a geological tourist attraction, fishery or for other public activities," AFP quoted him as saying.

"If it's managed well, I have confidence this will be an attractive place and bring good to the local community."

Locals initially baulked at the suggestion, local media reported at the time.

A man walks past Survivor statues displayed at mudflow areas to signify the lives of victims. Photo / Getty Images
A man walks past Survivor statues displayed at mudflow areas to signify the lives of victims. Photo / Getty Images

PT Lapindo Brantas, the natural resources company blamed for the eruption, has been slow to pay compensation to the mud victims, AFP reports.

The firm continues to maintain on its website investigations "determined that no correlation could be proven between the drilling activities and the mud eruption".