Three days after the volcanic eruption on the Indonesian island of Java, helpers have recovered more bodies. The number of dead in the Semeru eruption has risen to 34, and 16 more people are still missing, the local rescue service announced.
Many victims were burned beyond recognition, according to the National Disaster Management Agency. So far, only about a dozen dead could be identified, it said.
At least 68 people were reportedly injured and suffered burns. Many houses were almost completely buried under ash during the outbreak. About 2,000 affected people were accommodated in mosques and government buildings, among other places.
The volcano in the east of Indonesia's most populous island had erupted on Saturday, turning day into night with a huge cloud of smoke in the surrounding villages.
On Tuesday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited the region to assess the situation. "I came here today to make sure we are doing everything we can to find the missing," he said. New homes must be built immediately for those without shelter, he said.
Initially, Semeru, the highest mountain on the island of Java, had ejected towering ash and hot clouds into the air on Saturday, the country's disaster management agency (BNPB) said in a statement. The hot ash settled on nearby villages in East Java province, sending people fleeing in panic.
Ten sand miners who were working in the area and were trapped were rescued. A total of 902 people had to be evacuated and 98 people were injured, the disaster management agency announced.
The eruption disrupted a bridge connecting two areas in the nearby Lumajang district with the city of Malang. Numerous buildings were destroyed.
Rescuers' operations were hampered by thick mud and the collapse of a major bridge connecting two districts, said Suharyanto, head of the National Disaster Management Agency. "The mud is so thick that even four-wheel drive vehicles can hardly get through," he added.
"We are setting up emergency shelters in several places in Lumajang," said National Disaster Management spokesman Abdul Muhari. At least 300 families sought shelter in them by evening. An exclusion zone was set up within five kilometers of the volcano. Incandescent lava flowed up to 800 meters from the crater rim, Muhari added.
Active since December 2020
The nearly 3700-meter-high volcano is the highest mountain on Java and is located in the Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park in the east of Indonesia's most populous island. It has been increasingly active again since December 2020.
Lumajang district chief Thoriqul Haq said rumblings from the volcano have been heard since Friday. "Now it is dark in the villages," he told Kompas TV.
Indonesia lies on what is known as the Pacific Ring of Fire. Several tectonic plates collide there, so earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are particularly frequent.The island nation with a population of around 275 million has almost 128 active volcanoes. This year, Merapi on Java, Sinabung on Sumatra and Lewotolo on Lembata have already erupted.