The death toll following the eruption of the highest volcano on Indonesia’s most densely populated island of Java has risen to 13, with seven people still missing, officials said Sunday as smoldering debris and thick mud hampered search efforts. Mount Semeru in Lumajang district in East Java province spewed thick columns of ash more than 40,000 feet into the sky, and searing gas and lava flowed down its slopes after a sudden eruption Saturday triggered by heavy rains. Several villages were blanketed with falling ash. A thunderstorm and days of rain, which eroded and finally collapsed the lava dome atop the12,060-foot Semeru, triggered the eruption, said Eko Budi Lelono, who heads the geological survey center.
He said flows of searing gas and lava traveled up to 800 meters 2,624 feet to a nearby river at least twice on Saturday. People were advised to stay 3.1 miles from the crater’s mouth, the agency said. The debris and lava mixed with rainfall formed thick mud that destroyed the main bridge connecting Lumajang and the neighboring district of Malang, as well as a smaller bridge, Lumajang district head Thoriqul Haq said. Despite an increase in activity since Wednesday, Semeru’s alert status had remained at the third highest of four levels since it began erupting last year, and Indonesia’s Volcanology Center for Geological Hazard Mitigation did not raise it this week. The National Disaster Mitigation Agency said at least 13 villagers died from severe burns and 57 were hospitalized, including 16 in critical condition with burn injuries.
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