East Java's Semeru volcano erupts killing 14 people
by Mathias Hariyadi

The Civil Defence Department reports that 98 people were injured and about a thousand displaced, but the toll is likely to rise. Rescue operations have been hampered by smoke, ash and lapilli. The bridge connecting Lumajang and Malang collapsed, isolating many villages. Caritas on the ground to bring aid. 




Jakarta (AsiaNews) - The provisional death toll from the sudden and massive eruption of the Semeru volcano in the districts of Lumajang and Malang, in the Indonesian province of East Java, has risen to 14.

On 4 December, without 'any prior warning' from the local authorities, ash and lapilli spewed out of the crater, spilling over into large parts of the surrounding area. About a thousand people hurriedly left their homes built on the slopes of the mountain in panic. 

Columns of smoke and dust billowed from the volcano's mouth and spread for over 12 kilometres, while irritating gases were released and lava flowed down the sides. Total darkness fell over the entire area as a thick layer of smoke and dust invaded the atmosphere.

The electricity supply was cut due to the collapse of high voltage power lines. The Gladak Perak bridge connecting the towns of Lumajang and Malang also collapsed, isolating many villages in the Pronojiwo sub-district and hampering rescue operations. 

Most of the 14 people killed were miners extracting sand from the river, who were submerged in piles of ash and mud. Several villages were entirely covered by volcanic dust, causing the death of most of the livestock.

The local Civil Defence Department reports at least 98 people injured and 902 evacuated, now housed in temporary shelters; in a note to the population, experts recommend a safety distance of at least 5 km from the crater.

Msgr Henricus Pidyarto Gunawan, bishop of Malang, told AsiaNews that Caritas activists are already working to bring relief to the affected population. The two crisis centres located in the parish of Mary Queen of Peace in Lumajang and the parish of Mary Assumed into Heaven in Tumpang have been alerted.

Father Nugie O.Carm, in charge of aid and relief operations, reports that attention is focused on the thousands of people "isolated in the sub-district of Pronojiwo, because of the collapse of the Gladag Perak bridge".

Indonesia, which sits on the Pacific's so-called seismic 'Ring of Fire' , is often the victim of deadly earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. In 2018, a magnitude 7.5 quake and subsequent tsunami left 4,300 people dead and missing.

In 2004, a magnitude 9.1 earthquake - with epicentre off Sumatra - triggered a gigantic tsunami that killed 220,000 people in the Indian Ocean region, 170,000 in Indonesia alone.