Mount Semeru, one of Indonesia’s most active volcanoes, erupted on Saturday, sending hot ash and volcanic gas into the air which darkened the skies of the villages of the district of Lumajang, in the east of Java.
At least 15 people have died and 27 others are missing, according to the Mount Semeru Emergency Response Command Post. More than 1,700 people had been evacuated through 19 centers, the group said in a statement.
Nearly 3,000 homes and 38 schools were damaged by rubble, according to the statement noted. The eruption also destroyed a bridge that connects Lumajang to neighboring Malang district, blocking access from the main road and hampering rescue efforts, he added.
Maulana Ardiansyah, a volunteer with the Baznas Search and Rescue Team, told CNN the group found three bodies – a man, a woman and a child – submerged in cold lava in the village of Kampung Renteng . Monday morning.
The evacuees included hundreds of villagers who lived near a dam that erupted on Monday due to cold lava and heavy rain, search and rescue operations chief Wayan Suyatna told CNN.
He added that Monday’s search operation was forced to stop twice due to pyroclastic clouds – a mixture of ash, rock and volcanic gases that can be much more dangerous than lava.
“A hot volcanic cloud is dangerous for the safety of the team,” Suyatna said. “The weather here is also very bad. (It is) dark and rainy.”
Video shared by the Indonesian National Council for Disaster Management (BNPB) on Monday shows mud filled with debris stretching for miles around the volcano. The villages are completely abandoned and the vehicles remain submerged under the mud, while thousands of trees are covered with a sheet of ashy dust.
Local resident Hosniya, 31, told Reuters the eruption had taken her by surprise.
“At first I thought it was a bomb explosion … suddenly it was all dark, like it was going to destroy the earth,” she said.
Hosniya was evacuated with her family, but they were only able to take their official papers with them, Reuters reported.
In the village of Sumberwuluh, where 16 houses were buried in the ashes, residents rushed to evacuate their cattle on trucks on Sunday. The roofs of several houses in the village had collapsed, leaving bricks and metal rods exposed.
Aftershocks of the eruption were also felt by some residents of the villages of Kobokan and Kanjar on Sunday evening. They were then evacuated to a shelter in a nearby neighborhood.
The Indonesian government said it was preparing a resettlement process for villagers who lost their homes in the eruption. BNPB said it would provide them with financial assistance before the government could relocate them.
Indonesia sits between two continental plates on what’s known as the Ring of Fire, a strip around the Pacific Ocean basin that leads to high levels of tectonic and volcanic activity.