Rescuers in Indonesia raced to find survivors in villages blanketed by molten ash on Sunday after the eruption of Mount Semeru killed at least 14 persons and left dozens injured.
The eruption of the biggest mountain on the island of Java caught locals by surprise on Saturday, sending thousands fleeing and forcing hundreds of families into makeshift shelters.
At least 11 villages of Lumajang district in East Java were coated in volcanic ash, submerging houses and vehicles, smothering livestock and leaving at least 1,300 evacuees seeking shelter in mosques, schools and village halls.
“We did not know it was hot mud,” said Bunadi, a resident of Kampung Renteng, a village of about 3,000 people. “All of a sudden, the sky turned dark as rains and hot smoke came.”
Dramatic footage showed Semeru pumping a mushroom of ash into the sky that loomed over screaming residents of a nearby village as they fled.
At least 56 people, including two pregnant women, were injured in the eruption, health officials said, and most suffered serious burns.
President Joko Widodo on Sunday ordered a rapid emergency response to find victims after the scale of the disaster became clear, said state secretary Pratikno.
The country’s geological agency said rain is expected in the next three days that 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 the TV station.
Many people who sustained burns had mistaken the hot mud flow for floods so stayed in their villages, said Lumajang Public Order Agency spokesman Adi Hendro. “They did not have time to run away,” he said.
Lava mixed with debris and heavy rain destroyed at least one bridge in Lumajang, preventing rescuers from accessing the area.
Ash spewed by the volcano travelled up to four kilometres away, Indonesia’s geological agency reported, reaching as far as the Indian Ocean in the southern part of Java.