Mount Semeru in Indonesia erupts, burying homes in volcanic debris

SUMBERWULUH, Indonesia — Better weather conditions on Monday allowed rescue workers to resume evacuation efforts and search for possible victims after the highest volcano on Indonesia’s most populated island erupted, triggered by monsoon rains.

Mount Semeru in Lumajang district of East Java province spewed thick columns of ash almost 5,000 feet into the sky on Sunday. Villages and nearby towns were blanketed in falling ash blocking the sun, but no casualties were reported.

Hundreds of rescuers were deployed Monday in the worst-hit villages of Sumberwuluh and Supiturang, where homes and mosques have been buried to their roofs by tons of volcanic debris.

Heavy rains had eroded and eventually collapsed the lava dome on the 12,060-foot volcano, sending an avalanche of bubbling gas and lava tumbling down the slopes toward a nearby river. Scorching gas rushed down mountainsides, suffocating entire villages and destroying a bridge just being rebuilt after a massive eruption last year.

Semeru’s last major outburst was in December 2021, when he erupted with a rage that killed 51 people in villages buried under layers of mud. Several hundred others suffered severe burns and the eruption forced the evacuation of more than 10,000 people. The government moved around 2,970 homes out of harm’s way, including the village of Sumberwuluh.

Lumajang district chief Thoriqul Haq said villagers, still reeling from last year’s eruption, fled on their own after hearing the mountain begin to rumble early Sunday in a bid to “avoid casualties.” could”.

“They learned an important lesson on how to avoid the risk of an eruption,” he said while inspecting a damaged bridge in the hamlet of Kajar Kuning.

He said nearly 2,000 people had fled to temporary shelters at several schools, but many returned to their homes on Monday to tend their livestock and protect property.

Increased volcanic activity on Sunday afternoon prompted authorities to expand the danger zone to 5 miles from the crater, and scientists raised the volcano’s alert level to the highest level, said Hendra Gunawan, director of the Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation.

People have been advised to stay away from the southeastern sector along the Besuk Kobokan River, which is in the path of the lava flow.

Semeru, also known as Mahameru, has erupted multiple times over the past 200 years. Yet, as with many of Indonesia’s 129 active volcanoes, tens of thousands of people continue to live on its fertile slopes.

Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 270 million people, lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a horseshoe-shaped series of fault lines, and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity.

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