The highest volcano on Indonesia's most densely populated island of Java spewed thick columns of ash, searing gas and lava down its slopes in a sudden eruption triggered by heavy rains on Saturday. At least one villager died of burns, and dozens were hospitalized, the AP reports. Mount Semeru's eruption in Lumajang district in East Java province left several villages blanketed with falling ash. A thunderstorm and days of rain, which had eroded and finally collapsed the lava dome atop the 12,060-foot Semeru, sparked the eruption, said Eko Budi Lelono, who heads the geological survey center.
Television reports showed people screaming and running under a huge ash cloud, their faces wet from rain mixed with volcanic dust. Officials said flows of searing gas and lava traveled up to 2,624 feet to a nearby river at least twice on Saturday. People were advised to stay 3 miles from the crater's mouth, the agency said. "Thick columns of ash have turned several villages to darkness," said Lumajang district head Thoriqul Haq. Several hundred people were moved to temporary shelters or left for other safe areas, he said, adding that power blackout hampered the evacuation.
The debris and lava mixed with the rainfall formed thick mud that destroyed the main bridge connecting Lumajang and the neighboring district of Malang, as well as a smaller bridge, Haq said. One man died of burns, and 41 others were hospitalized with burn injuries, said Indah Masdar, the deputy district head. She said two villagers were reported missing and several sand miners were trapped in isolated areas along the village river. Houses in Curah Kobokan village were damaged by volcanic debris, Masdar said. Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 270 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity because it sits along the Pacific "Ring of Fire," a horseshoe-shaped series of fault lines.
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