At least 13 people died after the highest volcano erupted on Indonesia’s most densely populated island of Java, authorities said Sunday.
Seven people were still missing, as smoking debris and thick mud hampered search efforts.
Heavy rains caused a sudden eruption of Mount Semeru in East Java province on Saturday, spewing thick plumes of ash more than 12,000 meters into the sky as scorching gas and lava flew down its slopes.
“Thick columns of ash have darkened several villages,” said Lumajang District Chief Thoriqul Haq. Several hundred people were moved to temporary shelters or went to other safe areas, he said, adding that a power outage hampered the evacuation.
Debris and lava mixed with the rain formed a thick mud that destroyed the main bridge connecting Lumajang and neighboring Malang district, as well as a smaller bridge, Haq said.
Questions about the alert system
Despite an increase in activity since Wednesday, Semeru’s alertness had remained at the third highest level of four since it began to flare last year.
National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Abdul Muhari said at least 13 villagers died from severe burns and 57 were hospitalized, including 16 in critical condition with burns.
He said rescuers were still searching for seven residents and sand miners along a river in the village of Curah Kobokan who were reported missing.
Entire houses in the village were damaged by volcanic debris and more than 900 people fled to temporary government shelters, Muhari said.
Liswanto, the head of the Semeru monitoring post, said his office had informed the community and miners that hot ash could fall from the Semeru crater at any time, after sensors detected increased activity last week.
But some residents who fled to a government shelter near the Lumajang district headquarters said the authorities did not pass on any information about the volcano’s activities.
“Suddenly everything went dark, the bright afternoon turned into night. A noise and heat forced us to run towards the mosque,” said Fatmah, a resident who fled to the Curah Kobokan shelter, about 5 kilometers from the crater. “It was a much stronger eruption than in January.”
Airlines are advised to avoid routes near the volcano
Transportation Ministry spokeswoman Adita Irawati said her office issued an advisory on Saturday for all airlines to avoid routes near the volcano. He said flight operations are still running as scheduled and that authorities will continue to monitor the situation.
Television reports showed people screaming and running under a huge ash cloud, their faces wet from rain mixed with volcanic dust. The last time Semeru erupted, in January, there were 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 series of horseshoe-shaped faults.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism