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At least 14 dead after Indonesia’s Mount Semeru volcano erupts

By Masrur Jamaluddin and Radina Gigova, CNN

At least 14 people are dead and hundreds are displaced after Mount Semeru, a volcano in Indonesia’s East Java province, erupted on Saturday, authorities said.

Indonesia’s National Board for Disaster Management (BNPB) said in a statement Sunday the eruption had wounded 56 others, with 35 people in serious condition, after it covered villages with ash and left people to run from billowing clouds of debris.

Five of the victims have yet to be identified and nine people are still missing, the BNPB said. Some 1,300 people have been displaced by the eruption and reached evacuation centers, it added.

Hundreds of houses have been totally destroyed and 33 schools have been damaged by the eruption, according to the BNPB.

Officials say the situation at Mount Semeru remains dangerous due to the risk of pyroclastic flows — a mix of ash, rock and volcanic gases that can be much more dangerous than lava.

“We recommend everyone to increase their alert because the potential of pyroclastic flows threat is still high. It can happen anytime without any warning,” Chief of the Mount Semeru Observation Post, Liswanto, told CNN Sunday.

Liswanto said on Sunday his team recorded two pyroclastic flow events. The first was at 5 a.m. local and second one was at 10 a.m. local time. The deadly volcanic material was rolling down to Curah Kobokan village, which was evacuated on Saturday.

They have urged people living up to 6 miles away from the volcano to evacuate as pyroclastic flows “is very hot, the temperature can reach more than 1000 Celsius,” Liswanto said.

Since there is no sign or method to predict when the pyroclastic flow will occur, the phenomenon can be very dangerous, Liswanto said.

Ongoing evacuations

One rescue volunteer in Indonesia’s Lumajang district told CNN Sunday that he and his team evacuated the bodies of six miners from a river in Curah Kobokan village, where they were mining sand in the river bank.

Some of the miners were still inside their trucks, while others were discovered laying on the ground near the trucks, said 32-year-old volunteer Muhammad Firman Adiguna Effasa. It is unclear if those six deaths are part of the 14 deaths that authorities announced.

He added he was worried that more miners or other victims could be still out there but won’t survive because the lava flood was so intense.

Authorities have converted schools, mosques, village halls and village houses into evacuation centers, the statement said.

Java is the largest population center in Indonesia’s massive island archipelago and home to the capital city of Jakarta. Standing at more than 12,000 feet high, Mount Semeru is the tallest mountain on Java.

Volcanic ash and the smell of sulfur was first reported around 3 p.m. local time (3 a.m. ET), according to the Mount Semeru Volcano Observation Post. The station added that hot ash clouds were falling towards an East Java village, Sapitarang, in Pronojiwo District.

Videos shared by government emergency response teams showed residents in the area running away from huge thick clouds of ash. Other footage shared by locals showed people gathering at a local mosque in Besuk Kobokan as smoke blankets the surrounding streets.

Following the explosion rescue officials scrambled to evacuate victims from the surrounding area.

Indah Amperawati, deputy head of Lumajang District, an area close to the volcano said Saturday that most of the burn victims have been evacuated to the Penanggal Primarily Health Center alongside a resident who died in the village of Curah Kobokan.

Emergency services had been unable to reach several other villages due to roads being blocked by mud and fallen trees, Indah told the press conference.

The military has been asked for people and equipment to support rescue efforts, Maj. Gen. TNI Suharyanto, the head of the BNPB, told the press conference.

Budi Santosa, head of disaster management of East Java province, said Saturday that two sub districts had been “badly affected” by the volcano’s eruption.

Santosa told the news conference that he believed health facilities in the disaster area, either primary health centers or hospitals, would be able to accommodate victims.

On Sunday, the Indonesian government said it is now preparing a relocation process for villagers who lost their home and in the next six months the BNPB will provide them with financial aid before the government can relocate them.

Indonesia sits between two continental plates on what is known as the Ring of Fire, a band around the basin of the Pacific Ocean that leads to high levels of tectonic and volcanic activity.

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