LUMAJANG, Indonesia (AFP) — Indonesia’s Mount Semeru spewed more ash on Monday, forcing rescuers to suspend the search for survivors as aerial images showed the extent of the devastation unleashed by the volcano’s deadly weekend eruption.
The biggest mountain on the island of Java thundered to life Saturday, ejecting a mushroom of volcanic ash high into the sky and raining hot mud as thousands of panicked people fled their homes. At least 15 were killed.
Aerial photos showed entire streets filled with grey volcanic ash and mud, which had swallowed many homes and vehicles, including whole trucks.
Rescue operations were suspended because of fresh volcanic activity on Monday.
Indonesia’s national disaster agency said 27 people were still missing.
Dangerous thick plumes of smoke continued to emerge from areas blanketed by the volcanic ash, while rescuers in hardhats tried to dig through the mud to try and find survivors — and recover bodies.
Their task was made more difficult as the volcanic debris had started to harden.
“It’s very difficult… with simple tools,” Rizal Purnama said. “It is very likely bodies that have not been found are buried under the hot mudflow.”
Other rescuers helped desperate villagers salvage their belongings from wrecked homes.
Ash from Semeru traveled up to four kilometers away after the Saturday eruption, Indonesia’s geological agency reported.
A sand mine company’s office in Kampung Renteng village was buried after the eruption, trapping 15 people, according to foreman Hasim, 65, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
“There’s no news from them. Only one operator was rescued, he’s now at the hospital with burns,” he told AFP.
Rescue officials said some were buried inside their vehicles, with no time to escape.
The ash and mud also polluted the waterways around Mt. Semeru, turning them into streams of dark grey sludge.
Rain is forecast for the area, which could further hinder rescue work.
There is also a risk of the rain causing ash sediment to form a new river of hot lava, the country’s top volcanologist Surono told a local TV station.
Mt. Semeru’s last major eruption was in December 2020, which also forced thousands to flee and wrecked villages.