By Eko Widianto
At least 14 people were killed and 68 suffered burn injuries after a volcano in Indonesia’s East Java province erupted, burying homes in ash and sending hot lava and debris down its slopes, officials said Sunday.
The Semeru volcano, the highest mountain on Java island, ejected a huge column of smoke on Saturday afternoon, blanketing nearby villages in darkness and prompting residents to flee in terror.
The victims include an elderly woman and her daughter whose bodies were found under the rubble of their home hugging each other, local media reported.
Wawan Hadi, head of local civil protection agency, said 14 villagers were killed and 68 others suffered burns.
But East Java Governor Khofifah Indar Parawansa told local media that at least 17 people were confirmed dead.
“Some people reported that their relatives have not been found,” Khofifah was quoted as saying by the Okezone news website.
Khofifah said 3,400 personnel had been deployed to Lumajang regency to provide emergency assistance and look for more victims.
About 1,000 people were displaced as a result of the eruption, according to the local disaster management agency.
The volcanic mudflow also destroyed a major bridge linking Lumajang and neighboring Malang regency, further complicating rescue efforts.
“Residents are advised not to return to their homes because it’s still raining ash,” local district official Abdillah Irsyad told reporters.
Amirul Yasin, the head of the Indonesian Red Cross in Malang, said displaced people needed food, mattresses, blankets and baby food.
About 200 villagers have taken refuge at a mosque in Malang regency, many still wearing the same clothes they wore on the day of the eruption.
The eruption was so fast that no one had time to pack their belongings, they said.
“My house was destroyed and can no longer be occupied. I’m afraid to return because the ash is still falling,” said 45-year-old Maryam, who fled her home in the village of Supit Urang with her husband and two children.
In several hamlets near the volcano, homes were buried in ash, with only roofs visible.
Maryam said it was the biggest eruption of the volcano she could remember.
“Last year was not as bad as this one,” she told BenarNews. “I’ve not seen something like this. It was terrifying,” she said.
The 12,060-foot (3,676-meter) Semeru has erupted several times since December last year, when hundreds fled their homes to safer locations.
The head of the National Disaster Management Agency, Suharyanto, said the government would rebuild damaged houses.
“Pending rebuilding, we will provide a cash allowance to those affected so that they can rent a home for six months,” he said in a statement.
A woman who was among dozens of residents at a temporary shelter recounted the terrifying scene in a television interview.
“The sky suddenly became dark. It was like the end of the world,” the woman, who was not identified, told Metro TV.
“It was bigger than the previous eruptions. In the past we were not affected,” she said.
Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area known for seismic upheaval, and has about 128 active volcanoes.