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Indonesia's Semeru volcano eruption toll rises to 13 dead as people flee ash, smoke

December 05, 2021
The death toll from the Semeru volcano eruption in Indonesia's East Java province has risen to 13.
The death toll from the Semeru volcano eruption in Indonesia's East Java province has risen to 13.

JAKARTA — The death toll from the Semeru volcano eruption in Indonesia's East Java province has risen to 13, the DPA quoted officials as saying on Sunday. The eruption on Saturday sent residents fleeing as a huge column of smoke blanketed nearby villages in darkness, turning day into night.

Rescuers stepped up evacuation efforts on Sunday, National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesperson Abdul Muhari said. Muhari said 41 people were receiving medical treatment for severe burns, while at least 1,000 residents have been displaced after hot ash from the volcano blanketed nearby villages.

The nearly 3,700-meter Semeru, the highest mountain on Java island, has erupted several times since December last year, when hundreds fled their homes to safer locations. Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area known for seismic upheaval, and has about 128 active volcanoes.

Residents were filmed fleeing a giant ash cloud from Mt Semeru. Pictures show entire villages buried in volcanic ash up to rooftops, and locals have described thick smoke blocking the Sun, leaving them in pitch darkness.

Officials said at least 57 people have been injured, with many suffering severe burns. A spokesperson for Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) said that the injured were being treated at various hospitals and medical facilities.

The eruption has left at least 11 villages in the Lumajang district coated in volcanic ash, submerging houses and forcing some evacuees to seek shelter in mosques and makeshift shelters. According to BNPB officials, 902 people have been evacuated from the area so far.

But evacuation efforts have been hampered by choking smoke, a power blackout, and rainstorms during the eruption, which turned the debris into mud. Thoriqul Haq, a local official, told Reuters that a road and bridge from the area to the nearby city of Malang had also been severed during the eruption.

"This has been a very pressing, rapid condition since it erupted," he said.

Meanwhile, 10 people that had earlier been trapped in buildings have been rescued, according to BNPB. Officials say debris and lava mixed with rainfall formed thick mud that has hampered evacuation efforts

The Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC) in Darwin, Australia said the ash appeared to have detached from the summit and was drifting southwest over the Indian Ocean. The VAAC provides advice to the aviation industry about the location and movement of potentially hazardous volcanic ash.

Airlines have been warned of the ash cloud rising up to 15,000m (50,000 ft), which is higher than the cruising altitude for most aircraft, Campbell Biggs, a meteorologist at the VAAC, told the BBC. He added that this would force most airlines in the vicinity to divert their flight paths to avoid the cloud.

Ash that solidifies on cooler parts of plane engines can disrupt airflow, which can lead to engines stalling or failing completely. It also affects visibility for the pilots and can affect air quality in the cabin — making oxygen masks a necessity. — Agencies


December 05, 2021
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