The Mount Semeru volcano, on the island of Java, Indonesia, erupted this Sunday (4) and Indonesian authorities declared maximum alert in the region, which was severely hit by an eruption precisely a year ago.
“Mount Semeru has moved from Level 3 to Level 4,” Indonesia’s Center for Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation (PVMBG) said.
“It means that the population is in danger and the activity of the volcano has intensified,” PVMBG spokesperson Hendra Gunawan told Kompas TV.
Nearly 2,000 people were evacuated from their homes by Indonesian authorities. According to rescue services, 1,979 residents of six villages were evacuated and transferred to 11 shelters. The inhabitants of the cities surrounding the mountain fled before a huge cloud of ash arrived.
Local authorities sounded the alarm with bamboo drums, and the sky darkened as if it were midnight, with monsoon rain mixed with ash, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.
Rescue services reported “fire avalanches” caused by lava blocks that broke away from the summit during the eruption and flowed towards the base of the volcano.
So far there are no casualties, but Gunawan has advised residents to stay at least 8 kilometers from the volcano’s crater.
Authorities also asked people to avoid a 13-kilometre-long area located beside a river southeast of Mount Semeru, where a cloud of volcanic ash was heading. Mount Semeru, in East Java, is the island’s highest point at 3,676 meters.
Local aid group Irannala Rescue sent AFP videos showing a huge cloud rising above the crater and hiding the sun. In other images, neighboring towns are seen covered in ash.
According to television networks, the surroundings of the volcano were affected this Sunday by the monsoon, mixing rainwater with ash.
“A lot of people started coming down from the slopes of the volcano,” Thoriqul Haq, head of Lumajang district, where the volcano is located, told Kompas TV.
The inhabitants of the two most endangered villages fled, added a spokesman for the local rescue services.
Authorities opened reception centers for displaced people and distributed masks to residents to protect them from contamination and ash.
After the eruption, the internet was cut off and the telephone network failed, according to an AFP journalist.
The volcano’s last eruption, exactly one year ago, killed at least 51 people. Flows of mud and ash engulfed entire villages, and nearly 10,000 people had to flee their homes. Another eruption occurred two days later.
A bridge that connected two districts in the region, which had been under reconstruction since last year, was heavily damaged this Sunday, according to the PVMBG.
Indonesia is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, where clashing tectonic plates cause strong volcanic and seismic activity. The Southeast Asian archipelago has nearly 130 active volcanoes.
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