Rescuers sifted through smoldering debris and thick mud in search of survivors a day after the highest volcano on the island of Java erupted in rage, killing at least 14 people with burning gas and ash.
- Villages, towns and homes were covered in ash and volcanic debris after Saturday’s eruption
- Streams of hot ash and lava have traveled up to 11 kilometers to a nearby river
- Some residents returned to the area to check livestock, against the advice of the authorities
Mount Semeru in the Lumajang district of East Java province spewed thick pillars of ash more than 12,000 meters into the sky in a sudden eruption that was partially triggered by heavy rain on Saturday.
Villages and nearby towns were covered in ash, and several villages were buried under tons of mud from volcanic debris.
Streams of hot gas and lava traveled up to 11 kilometers to a nearby river at least twice on Saturday and three times on Sunday at the smaller distance of up to 2 kilometers, according to Indonesia’s Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation Agency.
Authorities warned the thousands of people fleeing the volcano’s anger not to return during Sunday’s break in activity, but some were desperate to check on abandoned livestock and belongings.
In several areas, everything – from the thinnest tree branch to sofas and chairs inside the home – was cake with ashes.
“There is no life there … trees, farms, houses are burned, everything is covered in heavy gray ash,” said Haryadi Purnomo of the East Java Search and Rescue Agency.
He said several other areas were largely untouched.
The search and rescue efforts were temporarily halted on Sunday afternoon due to fears that hot ash and debris could spill down from the crater due to heavy rain.
On Saturday, a stream of mud destroyed the main bridge connecting Lumajang and the neighboring district of Malang, as well as a smaller bridge, said Thoriqul Haq, the district manager of Lumajang.
The eruption eased the pressure that had been built up under a lava dome lying on the crater.
But experts warned that the dome could still collapse further, causing an avalanche of blistering gas and debris trapped beneath it.
A thunderstorm and days of rain, which eroded and partially collapsed the dome on top of the 3,676-meter-high Semeru, triggered the eruption, said Eko Budi Lelono, who heads the geological survey center.
Second outbreak this year
Semeru, the stratovolcano in the form of a cone, is also known as Mahameru, meaning “The Great Mountain” in Sanskrit.
It has erupted many times over the last 200 years and is one of 129 under surveillance in Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago – where more than 62,000 people call Sumerus’ fertile slopes home.
It broke out in late January, with no casualties.
Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 270 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity because it lies along the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, a horseshoe-shaped series of fault lines.
Currently, 54 percent of the country’s population lives in Java, the country’s most densely populated area.
Officials said earlier that they had hoped they could avoid casualties by closely monitoring the volcano.
National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Abdul Muhari said 56 people had been hospitalized, most with burns.
He said rescuers were still searching for nine residents of the village of Curah Kobokan.
More than 900 villagers flocked to temporary shelters after Saturday’s powerful outbreak, but many others defied official warnings and chose to stay in their homes, saying they had to look after their pets and protect their property, Mr Purnomo said.
“We will do everything we can to evacuate them by preparing trucks and motorcycles so they can escape at any time,” he said.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo said he instructed his prime ministers and disaster and military officials to coordinate the response.