News World Thousands flee as erupting Indonesia volcano blankets villages in huge ash cloud

Thousands flee as erupting Indonesia volcano blankets villages in huge ash cloud

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Villagers have been filmed running for their lives as a giant ash cloud billowed from an erupting volcano in Indonesia’s East Java province which has killed one person and left 41 with severe burns.

A huge column of smoke from Mt Semeru blanketed nearby villages in darkness on Saturday, turning day into night.

In addition to one known death and injuries, two people were missing and eight stone miners were trapped following the eruption, Indah Masdar, deputy district chief of Lumajang, said in a televised news conference.

“We hope that those trapped can be rescued soon. Their families are crying and anxious about their fate,” she said.

Rescue efforts were hampered by thick mud and the collapse of a major bridge linking two districts, said Major General Suharyanto, the head of the National Disaster Management Agency.

“The mud is so thick that even all-wheel-drive vehicles have difficulty moving,” he said.

Mobile phone footage broadcast by local television showed villagers running and screaming in panic as a huge cloud of ash approached them.

Residents were heard shouting “Allahu akbar!” or God is greatest.
Fiery lava travelled as far as 800m from the crater, according to the disaster agency.

“In response to the eruption, locals are advised not to stay near a river,” agency spokesman Abdul Muhari said, referring to the threat of flooding caused by a destructive volcanic mudflow known as lahar.

The remains of a bridge destroyed by flowing lava from Mount Semeru. Photo: AAP

The Kompas TV news broadcaster reported that a bridge over a river linking two districts had collapsed and several houses were buried under the weight of volcanic debris, but it was not clear if anyone was hurt.

Mr Muhari said workers from the local civil protection agency had been deployed.

Lumajang district chief Thoriqul Haq said the volcano had been active since late Friday.

“Now it’s dark in villages,” he told Kompas TV.

A house covered in ash. Photo: AAP

The nearly 3,700-metre Semeru, the highest mountain on Java island, has erupted several times since December last year, when hundreds fled their homes to safer locations.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area known for seismic upheaval, and has about 128 active volcanoes.