Death toll from Indonesia’s volcano eruption climbs to 34

Search and rescue operations are still under way to find 16 people missing after the eruption of Java’s Mount Semeru.

Villagers ride a motorcycle as Mount Semeru spews ash and smoke in Supiturang village, Lumajang, East Java [Ari Bowo Sucipto/Antara Foto via Reuters]

The death toll from the eruption on Saturday of the highest volcano on Indonesia’s Java island has risen to at least 34, local officials said, and rescue operations are still under way.

Mount Semeru, in the Lumajang district of East Java province, spewed thick columns of ash more than 12,000 metres (40,000 feet) into the sky, with searing gas and lava flowing down its slopes after the sudden eruption.

The disaster left entire streets filled with mud and ash, swallowing homes and vehicles in several villages.

“So far, 34 people have died and 16 are still being searched [for],” Wayan Suyatna, head of the local search and rescue agency,  told state media on Tuesday, raising an earlier death toll of 14. He added that nearly 3,700 people have been evacuated from the affected area.

Students pray for the victims of the eruption of Mount Semeru at a school in Kediri, East Java [Prasetia Fauzan/Antara Foto via Reuters]

Rescuers have been battling dangerous conditions since the eruption, searching for survivors and bodies in the volcanic debris, wrecked buildings and destroyed vehicles. Search crews deployed dogs on Tuesday to aid the operation.

Mount Semeru has remained active since Saturday, with small eruptions keeping emergency workers and residents on edge. On Tuesday, there were three small eruptions, each spewing ash about a kilometre (3,300 feet) into the sky, authorities said.

Officials have advised locals not to travel within 5km (3.1 miles) of Semeru’s crater, as the nearby air is highly polluted and could affect vulnerable groups.

Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 270 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity because it sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, a horseshoe-shaped series of fault lines.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies