Southeast Asia

Rescue efforts underway in Indonesia after volcano eruption

Published : December 06, 2021 15:48 IST

Rescuers were hindered by volcanic ash and hot mud caused by December 4's volcanic eruption at Mount Semeru in Java. Photo: Rokhmad/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Over a dozen people died and nearly a hundred were injured when Mount Semeru erupted on the Indonesian island of Java.

Emergency services on December 5 raced to find survivors a day after after the Mount Semeru volcano erupted on the Indonesian island of Java, claiming the lives of at least 14 people. Hundreds fled to makeshift shelters on the afternoon of December 4 as molten lava and ash spewed down the tallest mountain on the island, leaving the ground searing hot on December 5 and complicating rescue efforts.

What is the latest?

At least 14 people died after Mount Semeru's surprise eruption on Saturday covered nearby villages in volcanic ash. Another 56 people are being treated in hospital for burns — including two pregnant women, said Abdul Muhari, spokesperson for the national disaster agency (BNPB). At least seven people were still missing after the eruption, with two believed to still be alive. "There were signs they are still alive as there were lights maybe from their cellphones," Hendro said. "But we cannot go there as the ground is still very hot. We want to ensure our team's safety too."

But Muhari told reporters that ten people trapped by the eruption had been rescued. Local broadcaster Kompas TV said the survivors were sandminers caught out close to their workplace. Rescue efforts have been hindered by the damage caused by the hot mud flow. The dangerous mixture has severed a key road and destroyed at least one bridge leading to the area from Lumajang. Indonesian meteorologists predicted heavy rainfall over the next three days, further complicating rescue efforts.

Emergency response crews used heavy loaders to remove debris and try to clear roads. Authorities evacuated about 1,300 people from at least 11 villages. Many mistook the hot mud flow from the volcano for rushing floodwaters — prompting them to seek shelter in their homes rather than fleeing their villages, local officials said. "They did not have time to run away," Lumajang Public Order Agency spokesperson Adi Hendro told news agency AFP. After a harmless eruption in January, authorities believe residents who farm the fertile slopes of Mount Semeru underestimated the size of the eruption and reach of the lava flow.

Emergency response launched

Indonesian President Jokowo Widodo tweeted a photo of the aftermath of the natural disaster on December 5, showing a town caked in volcanic mud. He said he had ordered emergency services to the area. "Searching and finding victims, providing care to the injured, and handling disaster impacts," he said of the work they were doing. "Health service assistance, logistical provision for refugees' basic needs, as well as infrastructure improvements must be completed in a short time."

Anxious villagers who returned home tried to salvage their belongings, carrying mattresses and furniture away from the disaster zone while shepherding along their livestock. "For now, we urge people not to stay because the volcanic ash is still relatively hot," Indra Wibowo, BNPB chief, told the local Metro TV. Volcanic ash had spread for 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) by December 5, with the BNPB urging people not to go within 5 kilometers of the crater.

"All rescue efforts have been put on hold, because heavy rains have set in," said DW's Indonesia correspondent Georg Matthes. "A lot of people are still suffering from burns and respiratory problems due to the ash in the air but overall authorities have said there is enough aid coming and over the next days they hope to take care of the people there," he added. Matthes said that as Mount Semeru is "among the ten most active volcanoes in the world... local authorities should have warned the population that something like this might have happened."

What happened on December 4?

At 3:30 p.m. local time (0830 GMT) on December 4, the 3,676 meter-tall Mount Semeru volcano erupted. Semeru is one of the most active volcanoes in Indonesia and is the highest mountain on the island of Java. Indonesia's center for volcanology said it had warned officials of increased volcanic activity on December 2. The eruption was likely triggered by heavy rainfall and a thunderstorm that had eroded and collapsed the lava dome, according to the head of the geological survey center, Eko Budi Lelono.

Videos released on social media showed people running down a street and screaming as a huge cloud of ash enveloped their villages. AirNav Indonesia said the eruption did not "cause significant impact" on flights in the region. Indonesia sits on what is known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, with the Indonesian archipelago itself having about 128 volcanoes notorious for seismic activity.

jc/rs (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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