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Lumajang (Indonesia) (AFP) – Mount Semeru in Indonesia spat more ash on Monday, forcing rescuers to suspend the search for survivors as aerial footage showed the extent of the devastation caused by the deadly volcano eruption over the weekend.
The largest mountain on the island of Java came to life on Saturday, sending a volcanic ash mushroom high into the sky and raining hot mud as thousands of panicked people fled their homes. At least 14 were killed.
Aerial photos showed entire streets filled with gray volcanic ash and mud, which had engulfed many homes and vehicles, including entire trucks.
Rescue operations were suspended due to new volcanic activity on Monday.
“All the evacuation teams have been withdrawn (…) temporarily because there was a small fresh eruption and this could endanger the evacuation teams,” said rescuer Rizal Purnama.
“Research will continue today once the situation is a little more secure.”
Dozens of people are still missing, he added.
Thick plumes of dangerous smoke continued to emerge from areas blanketed by volcanic ash, as rescuers wearing hard hats tried to dig in the mud to try and find survivors – and retrieve bodies.
Their task was made more difficult as the volcanic debris had started to harden.
“It’s very difficult … with simple tools,” said Rizal Purnama. “It is very likely that bodies that have not been found are buried under the hot mudslide.”
Other rescuers helped desperate villagers recover their belongings from destroyed homes. Some residents lifted mattresses and furniture over their shoulders while others carried goats in their arms.
“I could only pray”
Authorities have advised residents not to travel within five kilometers (3.1 miles) of Semeru Crater, as the air nearby is heavily polluted and could affect vulnerable groups.
Semeru’s ash traveled up to four kilometers after Saturday’s eruption, the Indonesian Geological Agency reported.
The office of a sand mining company in the village of Kampung Renteng was buried after the eruption, trapping 15 people inside, according to foreman Hasim, 65, who like many Indonesians wears a only name.
“There is no news from them. Only one operator was rescued, he is now in hospital with burns,” he told AFP.
Hasim said he ran home after the eruption.
“It was pitch black,” he added. âIt was only 3 pm, but it was dark.
Relief officials said some were buried inside their vehicles, with no time to escape.
Those who managed to find shelter told of the horror after the eruption.
Suwarti Ningsi and her daughter were trapped for five hours in their home after the eruption.
“I couldn’t see anything, it was like night. Everyone was panicking,” said the 42-year-old.
“I could only pray … that my daughter and I would be saved.”
Threat of rain
Ash and mud also polluted the waterways around Mount Semeru, turning them into dark gray mud streams.
Rain is expected in the area, which could further hamper rescue operations.
Mount Semeru’s last major eruption occurred in December 2020, which also forced thousands to flee and destroyed villages.
Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, where the meeting of the continental plates causes high volcanic and seismic activity, and the country has nearly 130 active volcanoes.
In late 2018, an eruption in the strait between the islands of Java and Sumatra triggered an underwater landslide and tsunami that killed more than 400 people.
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