1 Dead and 11 Missing after Flash Floods in Indonesia; Volcano Erupts and Blankets Villages with Ash

By Rahma Nurjana | December 4, 2023

MEDAN, Indonesia (AP) — Rescuers recovered the body of a man buried under tons of mud and rocks from flash floods and a landslide that crashed onto a hilly village on Indonesia’s Sumatra island. Officials said Sunday that 11 people are still missing.

Tons of mud, rocks and trees rolled down from a mountain late Friday triggered by torrential rain, reaching a river that burst its banks and tore through mountainside villages near the popular Lake Toba in North Sumatra province.

Rescuers used excavators, dogs and sometimes their bare hands to shift the rubble in the worst-hit village as they searched for the dead and missing, said Sariman Sitorus, the spokesman of the local Search and Rescue Agency.

They also deployed several divers equipped with sonar detection to detect possible victims swept into Lake Toba, Sitorus said.

He said rescuers late Saturday pulled out a mud-caked body on the lakeside, about 500 meters (yards) from the devastated Senior Bakara Hotel. The man was identified as a hotel employee.

The National Disaster Management Agency said the landslide and flash floods damaged at least 35 houses, a church, a school and a hotel in the village of Simangulampe, forcing about 55 families to flee to a temporary government shelter.

Seasonal rain from about October to March frequently causes flooding and landslides in Indonesia, an archipelago of 17,000 islands where millions of people live in mountainous areas or near fertile flood plains.

The 1,145-square-kilometer (440-square-mile) Lake Toba, formed out of an ancient super volcano, is a popular sightseeing destination on the island of Sumatra and one of 10 stunning natural attractions in Indonesia that the government aims to develop as magnets for international tourists.

One of those volcanoes added to this weekend’s mayhem. Mount Marapi in West Sumatra province erupted Sunday, spewing white-and-gray ash plumes more than 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) into the air and sending hot ash clouds several miles away.

There were no immediate report of casualties, said Ahmad Rifandi, an official with Indonesia’s Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation Center at the Marapi monitoring post. The two routes for climbers were closed after the eruption and villagers living on the slopes of the mountain were advised to stay 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from the crater’s mouth because of potential lava.

About 70 climbers started their way up the nearly 2,900-meter (9,480-foot) mountain on Saturday and became stranded. So far, 28 have been successfully evacuated with the rest still awaiting rescue, said Dian Indriati, the acting head of North Sumatra’s conservation agency.

A video on social media shows the climbers were evacuated to a shelter, their faces and hair smeared with volcanic dust and rain.

National Disaster Management Agency spokesperson Abdul Muhari said several villages were blanketed with falling ash, blocking out the sun in many areas. Authorities distributed masks and urged residents to wear eyeglasses to protect them from volcanic ash, he said.

About 1,400 people live on Marapi`s slopes in Rubai and Gobah Cumantiang, the nearest villages about 5 to 6 kilometers (3.1 to 3.7 miles) from the peak.

Marapi`s alert level was maintained at the third-highest of four levels, Abdul Muhari said, and confirmed that authorities had been closely monitoring the volcano after sensors picked up increasing activity in recent weeks.

Marapi has been active since January when it also erupted without causing casualties. It is among more than 120 active volcanoes in Indonesia, which is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.

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