Indonesian president visits eruption survivors and vows to rebuild

President Joko Widodo travelled to areas impacted by the Mount Semeru eruption in East Java province.

Indonesian president Joko Widodo, centre, visits an area covered in ash following the volcanic eruption
Indonesian president Joko Widodo, centre, visits an area covered in ash following the volcanic eruption

Indonesia’s president visited areas devastated by a powerful volcanic eruption that killed at least 34 people and left thousands homeless, and vowed that communities would be quickly rebuilt.

Clouds of hot ash were sent into the sky and an avalanche of lava and gas swept up to seven miles (11km) down Mount Semeru’s slopes in a sudden eruption on Saturday triggered by heavy rain.

Villages and towns were blanketed by tons of volcanic debris.

Rescuers and villagers carry a body bag containing the remains of a victim of the Mount Semeru eruption
Rescuers and villagers carry a body bag containing the remains of a victim of the Mount Semeru eruption (Rokhmad/AP)

President Joko Widodo visited areas impacted by the eruption in Lumajang district in East Java province to reassure people that the government’s response was reaching those in need.

After visiting survivors in shelters on a football field, he pledged to rebuild infrastructure, including the main bridge connecting Lumajang to other cities, and move more than 2,000 houses out of danger zones.

Officials said earlier that residents of the hardest-hit villages would be relocated within the next six months, and each family waiting for a new house would be provided with 500,000 rupiah (£26) per month in compensation.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesperson Abdul Muhari said 56 people had been taken to hospital following the eruption, mostly with burns. He said rescuers were still searching for 17 villagers reported missing. Nearly 3,000 houses and 38 schools had been damaged, he added.

Mount Semeru releases volcanic materials during an eruption
Mount Semeru releases volcanic materials (Hendra Permana/AP)

The number of dead and missing was expected to rise, as much of the search area was mountainous and “geographically difficult”, Andris Rufianto Putro, a field co-ordinator for Semeru emergency response at Indonesian Red Cross, said.

On Tuesday, his teams recovered five bodies from the rubble of a home in the hamlet of Renteng, and two others found dead nearby, most of whom had suffered burns injuries. Five other bodies were found in the neighbouring village of Supiturang.

Cargo planes carrying food, tents, blankets and other supplies landed on Tuesday for distribution in temporary shelters crammed with about 3,700 displaced people.

The eruption of the 3,676-metre (12,060-foot) mountain eased pressure that had been building under a lava dome in its crater. But experts warned that the dome could further collapse, causing an avalanche of blistering gas and debris trapped beneath it.

Soldiers search for victims in a location where a house is buried beneath volcanic ash in Lumajang
Soldiers search for victims in a location where a house is buried beneath volcanic ash in Lumajang (Trisnadi/AP)

Relief workers struggled on Tuesday to clear tons of volcanic debris, and focused on three locations in the worst-hit village of Sumberwuluh, where people are still believed to be trapped in houses that were buried up to their rooftops, Wayan Suyatna, who heads the local search and rescue agency, said.

“The volcanic ash deposits are still at high temperatures, and the deeper we dig the hotter it gets,” he added.

Semeru, also known as Mahameru, has erupted several times in the last 200 years. But, as with many of the 129 volcanoes monitored in Indonesia, tens of thousands of people live on its fertile slopes. It last erupted in January, with no casualties.

Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 270 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity because it sits along the Pacific Ring Of Fire, a horseshoe-shaped series of fault lines.

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