Rescuers were searching for survivors on Sunday, 5 December on the slopes of the highest volcano on Indonesia’s island of Java after it was rocked by an eruption that killed at least 14 people, as smouldering debris and thick mud hampered their efforts.
Mount Semeru in Lumajang district in East Java province spewed thick columns of ash into the sky, and searing gas and lava flowed down its slopes after a sudden eruption Saturday triggered by heavy rains. Villages and nearby towns were blanketed with falling ash and several hamlets were buried under tonnes of mud from volcanic debris.
Authorities warned the thousands of people who fled the volcano’s wrath not to return during Sunday’s lull in volcanic activity, but some villagers were desperate to check on livestock and possessions left behind. In several areas, everything – from the thinnest tree branch to couches and chairs inside homes – was caked with ash.
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 eruption eased pressure that had been building under a lave dome perched on the crater. But experts warned that the dome could still further collapse, causing an avalanche of the blistering gas and debris trapped beneath it.
A thunderstorm and days of rain, which eroded and partly collapsed the dome atop the 3,676m Semeru, triggered the eruption, said Eko Budi Lelono, who heads the geological survey centre.
He said flows of searing gas and lava travelled up to 800m to a nearby river at least twice on Saturday. People were advised to stay 5km from the crater’s mouth, the agency said.
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