Mount Semeru volcanic eruption kills 13 as thousands flee

Mount Semeru volcanic eruption kills 13 as thousands flee
Rescuers say lush green villages have now become ‘death zones’

At least 13 people were killed and dozens were injured after Indonesia’s Semeru volcano erupted on Saturday. Disaster management teams continued to search for victims on ash covered land on Sunday as several are still missing.

The tallest mountain of Java island suddenly began erupting around 2.30pm on Saturday, spewing towers of thick ash as high as 40,000ft with lava and hot gas flowing down and ash blanketing 11 villages in the eastern part of the island.

Photos and videos on social media showed destruction and panic as people screamed and ran under a huge ash cloud, their faces wet from rain mixed with volcanic dust. Thousands of people were forced to flee their villages, leaving behind their possessions and livestock.

Search and rescue operations continued in deep layers of ash even as the weather condition, power cuts, rocks and hot volcanic sediments caused hurdles. One video showed police and military officials trying to excavate bodies with their bare hands.

Haryadi Purnomo of East Java’s search and rescue agency said nearby areas that were lush villages had now become “death zones”.

“There’s no life there… trees, farms, houses are scorched, everything is covered in heavy gray ash,” Mr Purnomo told Associated Press.

A rescuer carries a woman who fainted after the eruption of Mount Semeru

Officials said 13 people have been declared dead and at least 98 people, including two pregnant women, were injured. Some of the injuries were severe burn cases, while some suffered respiratory problems.

More than 900 people have been evacuated so far but rescue teams are continuing their search for more survivors.

The eruption damaged houses and severed a strategic bridge connecting two areas in the nearby district of Lumajang with the city of Malang, authorities said.

Remains of a bridge is seen in a slope, destroyed by the flowing lava by the eruption of Mount Semeru in Lumajang, East Java

The debris and lava mixed with rainfall to form thick mud that destroyed the main bridge connecting Lumajang and the neighbouring district of Malang, as well as a smaller bridge, said Thoriqul Haq, the district chief in Lumajang.

The chief of BNPB, Indonesia’s disaster management board, said it will rebuild the wrecked homes, and added that heavy equipment such as excavators and bulldozers were being deployed.

There is fear that smouldering debris and hot ash could tumble down from the crater due to heavy rain.

The 12,000ft-high Mount Semeru has erupted many times over the last 200 years and remains one of 129 volcanoes under watch in Indonesia.

The country, with a population of 270 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity because it sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, a highly seismically active zone.

Additional reporting by agencies