After a rapid eruption prompted by heavy rains on Saturday, Dec. 4, Mount Semeru in Lumajang district, East Java province, Indonesia, blasted thick columns of ash of more than 40,000 feet (12,000 meters) into the sky, and burned gas and lava streamed down its slopes, several settlements were engulfed in ashfall.
Officials announced on Sunday that the death toll from the eruption of the highest volcano on Indonesia’s most heavily populated island of Java grew to 13, with seven people still missing. Search operations were hampered by smoking debris and thick mud, NPR reported.
Several areas have been engulfed in darkness due to thick ash columns. Debris and lava coupled with rain created thick mud, which obliterated the major bridge between Lumajang and Malang’s adjacent district, as well as a smaller bridge.
A power outage hindered the evacuation of several hundred people who were transported to makeshift shelters or departed for other safe regions.
The eruption was initiated by a rainstorm and days of rain that eroded and eventually toppled the lava dome atop the 12,060-foot (3,676-meter) Semeru, according to Eko Budi Lelono, the geological survey center’s director.
At least twice the previous day, lava and scorching gas flowed up to 2,624 feet (800 meters) to a neighboring river. It was recommended that people keep 3.1 miles (5 kilometers) away from the crater’s mouth.
Abdul Muhari, a spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, said at least 13 villagers perished from severe burns and 57 were hospitalized, with 16 in serious condition due to burn injuries. He said rescuers were still looking for 7 people and sand miners who had gone missing beside a river in Curah Kobokan town.
Volcanic debris destroyed whole buildings in the community, forcing over 900 people to flee to temporary government shelters, Muhari said.
After sensors detected increasing activity in the last week, Liswanto, the head of Semeru’s monitoring post, said his office had alerted the community and miners that hot ash may fall from Semeru’s crater at any time.
However, several locals who sought refuge at a government shelter near the Lumajang district’s headquarters claimed that officials failed to provide them with any information on the volcano’s activity.
“Suddenly everything went dark, the bright afternoon turned into night. A rumbling sound and heat forced us to run to the mosque,” Fatmah, a resident of Curah Kobokan, some three miles (5 kilometers) from the crater, said. “It was a far stronger eruption than in January.”
Adita Irawati, a spokesman for the Transportation Ministry, said her agency had issued a warning to all airlines to avoid flying near the volcano. She said flight operations are continuing as planned, and officials will continue to monitor the situation.
According to the Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre, volcanic ash from Mount Semeru is spreading to the southwest at a pace of 50 knots.
Because Indonesia sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped sequence of fault lines, it is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity.