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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Indonesia volcano death toll rises to 13 – official

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Agam, Indonesia — The total number of hikers found dead after a volcano eruption in Indonesia has risen to 13 after two more bodies were found, a local rescue official said Tuesday.

“The total number of people who have died is currently 13,” Abdul Malik, head of Padang Search and Rescue Agency told AFP, adding that 10 hikers were still missing, while 52 have been evacuated.

The bodies of the two hikers were found late Monday, he added.

The rescue mission is being hampered by further volcanic activity and bad weather.

“The volcanic ash has reached the foot of the hill, which is a challenge for the team. Both routes will be steep and slippery,” Malik said.

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Eleven dead hikers were found Monday near the crater of Mount Marapi on the island of Sumatra, while several others were found alive and carried down the mountain.

The volcano spewed an ash tower 3,000 meters — taller than the volcano itself — into the sky on Sunday.

Mount Marapi, which means ‘Mountain of Fire’, is the most active volcano on Sumatra island.

Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide.

The archipelago nation has nearly 130 active volcanoes.

“This morning we will deploy around 200 personnel, on top of the personnel who are already staying up there. Until now five bodies have been brought down,” Hendri, head of operations at the Padang Search and Rescue Agency, told AFP Tuesday.

“The volcano is still erupting,” said the official, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

He said the 12 hikers remained missing as of Tuesday morning and six dead bodies were still to be evacuated, with five brought down the mountain for identification.

The rescuers would attempt manual evacuations when possible, walking to the top of the volcano and evacuating the victims using stretchers because of ongoing eruptions and poor visibility, Hendri said.

Ahmad Rifandi, head of Marapi’s monitoring post, told AFP Tuesday it had observed five eruptions from midnight to 8 am local time.

“Marapi is still very much active. We can’t see the height of the column because it’s covered by the cloud,” he said.

Volcanic ash was still falling around an information post at the base of the mountain where Marapi was not visible, according to an AFP journalist.

The head of Indonesia’s volcanology agency, Hendra Gunawan, said Marapi has been at the second level of a four-tier alert system since 2011, and a three-kilometer exclusion zone had been imposed around its crater.

He appeared to blame hikers on Monday for going too close to the crater, saying the agency recommended no human activities in that zone, and emphasized that “severe impacts” were reported for victims within one to 1.5 kilometers from the crater.

Officials said the hikers had registered through an online booking system, but others may have been on illegal mountain routes.

Relatives were still waiting for updates at the information centre at the base of the mountain.

“I will stay here until I hear some news,” said Dasman, father of missing hiker Zakir Habibi, who made a two-hour drive from Padang city to the base of the mountain in hope of good news.

“I still hope my son survives,” he said on Monday.

A total of 75 hikers were listed by officials as hiking on the mountain since Saturday, with some of the 49 initially accounted for suffering burns and fractures.

The search will carry on for seven days, rescue officials said.

Those killed were severely burned and forensic workers were preparing to identify the dead by dental and fingerprint records, or based on marks on their bodies, said Eka Purnamasari, an official from the West Sumatra police medical unit.

Locals described the carnage when the volcano burst to life on Sunday.

“The villagers were shocked because of the thundering noise, then there was a jolt and also a boom. The villagers were very traumatised by the eruption,” said Adrizal, head of local village Nagari Lasi.

Mount Marapi, which means “Mountain of Fire”, is the most active volcano on Sumatra island.

Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tectonic plates collide.

The archipelago nation has nearly 130 active volcanoes. AFP

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