Mt Sinabung eruption kills 7, more feared dead

Indonesian soldiers aiding in the evacuation of Gamber village in North Sumatra yesterday. The village residents were ordered to evacuate in 2014 due to the volcanic risk but had begun moving back to their farms for economic reasons.
Indonesian soldiers aiding in the evacuation of Gamber village in North Sumatra yesterday. The village residents were ordered to evacuate in 2014 due to the volcanic risk but had begun moving back to their farms for economic reasons.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

JAKARTA • The death toll from a volcanic eruption in western Indonesia has climbed to seven, an official said yesterday, with fears that more could have been trapped by the hot ash.

Two people also remain in a critical condition after Mount Sinabung, a highly active volcano on Sumatra island, unleashed a series of fresh eruptions last Saturday afternoon, disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.

The injured have been taken to hospital, he said.

The victims were all farming within the "red zone" - an area 4km from Sinabung declared off limits by the government authorities for safety reasons - when they were consumed by pyroclastic clouds.

These fast-moving waves of hot gas and rock can reach 700 deg C as they roar down the sides of the volcano, Mr Sutopo said.

Search-and-rescue teams were scouring homes and farms in Gamber village, where residents were ordered to evacuate in late 2014 due to the unacceptable risk from lava flows, dense ash and falling volcanic rock.

Around 300 rescuers were involved in the operation, Mr Zainul Tjahar, the head of the provincial search-and-rescue office, said by telephone from North Sumatra.

Mr Sutopo said: "It is not known exactly how many people were in Gamber village when the hot clouds descended." He added that the emergency crews were wary of the risk of further eruptions.

"There shouldn't have been any public activity (within the red zone)," he said.

Many living in temporary shelters had begun moving back to their farms for economic reasons, despite repeated warnings, he added.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced since Sinabung rumbled back to life in 2013 after a period of inactivity.

The volcano periodically erupts spectacularly, sending columns of ash several kilometres into the sky, and sometimes claims lives.

Sixteen people died during a particularly fierce eruption in 2014, and Sinabung remains at the highest alert level.

Sinabung is one of 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia, which sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a belt of seismic activity running around the basin of the Pacific Ocean. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2016, with the headline 'Mt Sinabung eruption kills 7, more feared dead'. Print Edition | Subscribe