Death toll rises as poor weather complicates search efforts in Java
Thousands have been displaced and more than 30 killed following an eruption from the tallest volcano on the Indonesian island of Java on Saturday. The volcano rumbled to life yet again early this week.
The eruption of Mount Semeru dumped ash into Indonesia's East Java region, causing at least 15 fatalities and injuring 56 people on Dec. 6.
The volcano in eastern Indonesia that erupted over the weekend, claiming the lives of over 30 people with over a dozen still missing, continues to rumble to life as officials contemplate relocating some villagers out of danger zones.
Search and recovery in the wake of the violent eruption of Mount Semeru on the island of Java was still ongoing as the volcano continued to erupt once on Monday and three times on Tuesday, Reuters reported, citing Indonesia's Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation. On Tuesday, a team of researchers from this agency was investigating the areas surrounding the volcano to identify where it may be too dangerous for villagers to stay, Reuters reported.
Poor weather also plagued the teams, slowing their efforts. Twice, pyroclastic clouds, which are a mix of ash, rock and volcanic gases, forced Monday's search operation to a halt, Operational Chief of Search and Rescue I Wayan Suyatna told CNN. He also described the weather as "dark and rainy."
Heavy rain from thunderstorms can combine with the newly fallen volcanic ash and create lahars that sweep through valleys destroying anything in their path. A moving lahar looks like a roiling slurry of wet concrete, according to the United States Geological Service.
Heavy rain is thought to be the cause of the initial eruption on Saturday. Thunderstorms and days of rain, which eroded and finally collapsed the lava dome atop the 12,060-foot Semeru, triggered the eruption, said Eko Budi Lelono who heads the Gambar Center for Geological Survey, reported The New York Times.
The eruption of Mount Semeru on Saturday, Dec. 4, spewed hot ash and mud into nearby villages, 11 of which were buried under several feet of ash and debris. The death toll attributed to Saturday's eruption climbed to 34 people on Tuesday, according to Reuters, with an additional 22 still missing. More than 100,000 homes have suffered partial damage or complete destruction.
At least 2,000 homes would need to be relocated to safer areas, said Indonesian President Joko Widodo after visiting the impacted area on Tuesday.
Mount Semeru is the tallest and one of the most active volcanoes on the Indonesian island of Java. The volcanic eruption sent thick columns of ash nearly 40,000 feet (12,200 meters) into the sky, sending locals running for safety as volcanic ash and mud covered nearby villages. Residents of nearby villages had to evacuate their homes and seek refuge in temporary shelters after the eruption. According to CNN, up to 60,000 people have been affected.
People living up to 6 miles away from the volcano have been urged to evacuate due to the risk of pyroclastic flows. A pyroclastic flow is a cloud of hot gas and volcanic ash that can sweep down the slope of a volcano at temperatures of over 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (about 540 degrees Celsius).
At least 56 residents were hospitalized, of which 35 were in serious condition with burns.
The head of the Penanggal Lumajang Health Center, Dr. Lya Aristini, said after the eruption that the average person who has come into the healthcare facility seeking treatment for volcano-related burns is in severe condition, and the health center was overloaded with patients, Detik News reports.
In the coming days, AccuWeather Meteorologist Rob Richards said, thunderstorms could stir up amid cleanup efforts. The nation's military has been asked to provide personnel support and equipment to aid in the recovery.
"The forecast for recovery efforts for the Mount Semeru volcano eruption is the chance for a thunderstorm each afternoon with temperatures rising into the middle to upper 70s," Richards said. "Volcanic ash from the eruption will also cause low visibilities and dangerous health conditions due to the pollutants being put into the air."
Mount Semeru last erupted in January and is considered one of Indonesia's most active volcanoes. An eruption in 2010 killed more than 350 people.
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