Indonesia’s highest volcano on its most densely populated island spewed clouds of fiery gas and rivers of lava on Sunday in its latest eruption. The country’s National Disaster Management Agency, BNPB said, ‘monsoon rains eroded and eventually collapsed the 3,676-meter-tall lava dome of Mount Semeru, triggering the eruption.’
Mount Semeru erupts
At least 2,000 people were evacuated after the eruption of the Semeru volcano in Indonesia on Sunday, according to a statement from National Disaster Management Agency, BNPB.
The authorities raised the risk alert to the highest level in the surroundings of the Semeru volcano, in the southeast of the island of Java, due to the “increased volcanic activity” after the eruption registered on Sunday morning.
The statement noted that the Indonesian Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation, PVMBG, advised residents to avoid the southeast sector along the Besuk Kobokan river, which could be affected by hot ash clouds and lava flow.
The measure is due to the fact that “eruptive activity and hot cloud avalanches on Mount Semeru remain very high”, increasing the risk of gas clouds, water vapour or lava flows due to heavy rains that fall in the area, explained the BNPB in a statement.
“With this increased volcanic activity, the Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation (PVMBG) raised the status of Mount Semeru from ‘Alert’ to ‘Caution’, or from level III to level IV,” the Agency said.
Several villages were completely covered by the fall of ash, although so far there is no record of victims. Hundreds of residents, their faces covered in volcanic dust and rain, fled to temporary shelters or headed for other safe areas.
Expansion of the danger zone
On Sunday, thick plumes of ash were spewed more than 1,500 meters into the sky, while gas and lava flowed down the slopes of Mount Semeru into a nearby river.
The increased volcanic activity led authorities to extend the danger zone to 8 kilometres from the crater, confirmed Hendra Gunawan, who heads the Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation.
Semeru is the highest volcano in Indonesia and is located on the most densely populated island of Java. “A total of 10,000 fabric masks, 10,000 medical masks and 4,000 children’s masks were distributed to reduce the impact of respiratory risks due to volcanic ash,” the statement said.
A joint team made up of local authorities, the National Search and Rescue Agency, volunteers and other agencies “continue to carry out rescue, search and evacuation efforts”, authorities said.
Possibility of tsunami
Japan’s Meteorological Agency monitored the possibility of a tsunami after the volcano erupted, according to Japanese public broadcaster NHK, although the state entity later ruled that out.
Semeru’s last major eruption occurred in December last year, killing 51 people in villages buried under layers of mud. Hundreds more suffered severe burns and the eruption forced the evacuation of more than 10,000 people.
Semeru, also known as Mahameru, has experienced numerous eruptions over the past 200 years. However, as with many of Indonesia’s 129 active volcanoes, thousands of people continue to live on its fertile slopes to enjoy activities such as agriculture.
Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 270 million people, sits along the Pacific Ring of Fire, a series of horseshoe-shaped fault lines prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity.
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