The eruption of the Semeru volcano has killed at least 14 people and injured dozens on the island of Java, Indonesia’s disaster agency said, while rescue teams searched for victims under layers of ash, sometimes digging with their bare hands.
Semeru, the highest mountain in Java, on Saturday threw up towers of ash and hot clouds that covered nearby villages in the East Java province and sent people fleeing in panic.
The eruption destroyed buildings and cut off a strategic bridge connecting two areas in the nearby district of Lumajang with the city of Malang, authorities said.
A BNPB official said at a press conference late Sunday that 14 people had been killed, nine of whom have been identified, and 56 people were injured, most of them burns.
About 1,300 people have been evacuated, while nine people are without accounts, the BNPB said.
Taufiq Ismail Marzuqi, a resident of the Lumajang district who had volunteered to help, told Reuters the rescue effort was “very serious” due to the severed bridge and volunteers lacking experience.
In a video he recorded, police and military officials tried to excavate bodies with their bare hands.
Rescuers in the village of Curah Kobokan, also in Lumajang, found the body of a mother still holding her dead baby, the state news agency Antara reported.
A witness from Reuters in the Sumberwuluh area said houses and vehicles were almost completely submerged in thick, gray ash, felled trees blocked roads, and a cow that villagers had not been able to rescue was lying by the roadside, the witness said. .
Hosniya, a 31-year-old local resident who was evacuated with his family, told Reuters the outbreak was very sudden.
“At first I thought it was a bomb blast … suddenly it was all dark, as if it would destroy the earth,” she said.
Hosniya and her family fled, unable to take anything with them other than their official papers.
Heavy rain is expected over the next three days, which could complicate evacuation efforts, a Meteorological Agency official said late Sunday. Rock remains and hot volcanic sediments already restricted movement, local rescuers said.
BNPB will rebuild the destroyed homes, and heavy equipment, including excavators and bulldozers, is being deployed, its chief said.
The agency also said 10 people trapped in sand mines at the outbreak had been evacuated to safety.
Semeru, which according to volcano experts has been in an eruption phase since 2014, had started emitting hot clouds and lava flows recently, prompting authorities to issue warnings to people not to go near it from Wednesday.
Indonesia’s Ministry of Transport said on Sunday that the eruption had not caused any disruption to flights, although pilots have been warned to beware of falling ash.
Semeru, more than 3600 meters high, is one of Indonesia’s nearly 130 active volcanoes.
Indonesia straddles the “Pacific Ring of Fire”, a very seismically active zone where different plates on the earth’s crust meet and create a large number of earthquakes and volcanoes.