Death toll rises after eruption of volcano on Indonesia’s Java island

ITV News Correspondent Lewis Warner has the latest developments on the Mount Semeru volcano eruption, which has prompted a desperate search for survivors

The death toll following the eruption of the highest volcano on Indonesia’s most densely populated island of Java has risen to 14, according to reports.

Mount Semeru in Lumajang district in East Java province spewed thick columns of ash more than 12,000 metres (40,000 feet) into the sky, and searing gas and lava flowed down its slopes after a sudden eruption on Saturday triggered by heavy rains.

Several villages were blanketed with falling ash.

“There’s no life there ... trees, farms, houses are scorched, everything is covered in heavy gray ash,” said Haryadi Purnomo of East Java’s search and rescue agency.

Search and rescue efforts were temporary suspended on Sunday afternoon because of fears that hot ash and debris could tumble down from the crater due to heavy rains.

Villagers look at the broken bridge destroyed by the lava flow following the eruption of Mount Semeru in Lumajang district. Credit: AP

A thunderstorm and days of rain, which eroded and finally collapsed the lava dome atop the 3,676-metre (12,060-foot) Semeru, triggered the eruption, said Eko Budi Lelono, who heads the geological survey centre.

He said flows of searing gas and lava travelled up to 800 metres (2,624 feet) to a nearby river at least twice on Saturday.

People were advised to stay 3.1 miles from the crater’s mouth, the agency said.

The ash from the eruption of Mount Semeru covers a village area in Lumajang distrct, East Java, Indonesia Credit: Trisnadi/AP

“Thick columns of ash have turned several villages to darkness,” said Lumajang district head Thoriqul Haq.Several hundred people were moved to temporary shelters or left for other safe areas, he said, adding that a power blackout hampered the evacuation.

The debris and lava mixed with rainfall formed thick mud that destroyed the main bridge connecting Lumajang and the neighbouring district of Malang, as well as a smaller bridge, according to officials.

Despite an increase in activity since Wednesday, Semeru’s alert status had remained at the third highest of four levels since it began erupting last year, and Indonesia’s Volcanology Centre for Geological Hazard Mitigation did not raise it this week, Mr Lelono said.

Watch as people flee for their lives as the volcano starts spewing out ash and smoke

National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesperson Abdul Muhari had said at least 13 villagers died from severe burns and 57 were taken to hospital, including 16 in critical condition with burn injuries.

The Associated Press has reported the death toll now stands at 14.

Mr Muhari said rescuers were still searching for seven residents and sand miners along a river in Curah Kobokan village who were reported missing.

Entire houses in the village were damaged by volcanic debris and more than 900 people had fled to temporary government shelters, he said.

Mr Liswanto, the head of Semeru’s monitoring post, said his office had informed the community and the miners that hot ash could tumble down from Semeru’s crater at any time, after sensors picked up increased activity in the past week.

But some residents who fled to a government shelter near Lumajang district’s head office said authorities did not convey any information to them about the volcano’s activities.

An Indonesian soldier walks by a house buried in the ash Credit: Trisnadi/AP

“Suddenly everything went dark, the bright afternoon turned into night. A rumbling sound and heat forced us to run to the mosque,” said Fatmah, a resident who fled to the shelter from Curah Kobokan, about three miles from the crater.

“It was a far stronger eruption than in January.”

Transport ministry spokesperson Adita Irawati said her office issued a notice Saturday for all airlines to avoid routes near the volcano.

The last time Semeru erupted, in January, there were no casualties.

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.