Eruption of volcano on Java buries villages in ash mounds

Rescuers battled through hot ash and debris yesterday as they tried to find survivors after a volcano erupted, submerging villages, killing at least 14 people and leaving dozens with burns.

he eruption of Semeru, the tallest mountain on the Indonesian island of Java, the previous day sent thousands fleeing in panic and blanketed homes with molten ash.

Houses and vehicles were left submerged in at least 11 villages in East Java’s Lumajang district, where Semeru is located, with some roofs poking out of layers of thick mud. Volcanic ash smothered livestock and forced hundreds of families into makeshift shelters in mosques, schools and village halls.

Flows of hot gas and lava travelled up to 11km to a nearby river at least twice on Saturday and by a smaller distance three times yesterday.

Some residents went against official warnings yesterday and braved the sea of mud and filthy air to return to their homes, desperate to salvage what they could. Others searched despairingly for missing friends and relatives.

“There were 10 people carried away by the mud flow,” said Salim, a resident of Kampung Renteng, a village of about 3,000 people, where rescuers were working among buckled buildings and fallen trees.

“One of them was almost saved. He was told to run away but said, ‘I can’t, who will feed my cows?’”

Another resident said villagers didn’t know that it was hot mud that was coming towards them.

“All of a sudden, the sky turned dark as rains and hot smoke came,” said Bunadi, who, like many Indonesians, goes by only one name.

Many of those who were burnt had thought the hot mud flow was a flood so they stayed in their villages, said Lumajang Public Order Agency spokesman Adi Hendro. “They did not have time to run away,” he said. Rescuers in another village, Curah Kobokan, found the body of a mother still holding her dead baby, the state news agency Antara reported.

Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency announced that at least 14 people had died.

At least 56 more people were injured, with most suffering serious burns, according to health officials.

Around 1,300 people had been evacuated, while authorities were trying to confirm the whereabouts of nine people.

Joko Widodo, the president of the South-East Asian archipelago nation, yesterday ordered a rapid emergency response to find victims.

Rescuers reached 10 people who had been trapped in areas surrounding Lumajang, said Abdul Muhari, a national disaster mitigation agency spokesman.

But those rescue efforts were hampered by hot ash and debris, and the destruction of at least one bridge connecting two areas by debris-filled lava and heavy rain.

Evacuations were temporarily halted yesterday because of ash clouds, and Indonesia’s geological agency said expected rain over the coming days could further frustrate the rescue work.

Taufiq Ismail Marzuqi, a resident who had volunteered to help, said rescue efforts were “very dire” because of the severed bridge and volunteers who lacked experience.

He had recorded a video showing police and military officials trying to dig out bodies with their bare hands.

The eruption was triggered by a thunderstorm and days of rain, which eroded and partly collapsed the dome on the top of the 3,600m-high Semeru, said Eko Budi Lelono, who heads Indonesia’s geological survey centre.

Semeru is one of nearly 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia, but it is also home to 62,000 people. The country sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, a series of fault lines that makes it prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2021]

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