World

Indonesia's Mount Semeru sends locals fleeing as eruption unleashes gas clouds, lava rivers

Indonesia's highest volcano on its most densely populated island released searing gas clouds and rivers of lava on Sunday in its latest eruption.

Authorities raise alert level for volcano on island of Java to the highest level

A rescuer evacuates an elderly resident following the eruption of Mount Semeru, a volcano in Lumajang, East Java province, Indonesia, on Sunday. (Antara Foto/National Disasters Mitigation Agency/Reuters)

Indonesia's highest volcano on its most densely populated island released searing gas clouds and rivers of lava on Sunday in its latest eruption.

Monsoon rains eroded and finally collapsed the lava dome atop 3,676-metre Mount Semeru, causing the eruption, according to National Disaster Management Agency spokesperson Abdul Muhari.

Several villages were blanketed with falling ash, blocking out the sun, but no casualties have been reported. Several hundred residents, their faces smeared with volcanic dust and rain, fled to temporary shelters or left for other safe areas.

Thick columns of ash were blasted more than 1,500 metres into the sky, while searing gas and lava flowed down Semeru's slopes toward a nearby river.

Increased activities of the volcano on Sunday afternoon prompted authorities to widen the danger zone to eight kilometres from the crater, said Hendra Gunawan, who heads the Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation.

A man looks on as Mount Semeru releases volcanic materials during an eruption on Sunday in Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia. (The Associated Press)

He said scientists raised the volcano's alert level to the highest, and people were advised to keep off the southeastern sector along the Besuk Kobokan River, which is in the path of the lava flow.

Japan's Meteorological Agency said there was no tsunami impact from the volcano's eruption, according to public broadcaster NHK.

Semeru's last major eruption was in December 2021, when it blew up with a fury that left 51 people dead in villages that were buried in layers of mud. Several hundred others suffered serious burns, and the eruption forced the evacuation of more than 10,000 people. The government moved about 2,970 houses out of the danger zone.

Gladak Perak Bridge is shown following the eruption of Mount Semeru in Lumajang, East Java province, Indonesia, on Sunday. (Antara Foto/National Disasters Mitigation Agency/Reuters)

Semeru, also known as Mahameru, has erupted numerous times in the last 200 years. Still, as is the case with many of the 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia, tens of thousands of people continue to live on its fertile slopes.

Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 270 million people, sits along the Pacific "Ring of Fire," a horseshoe-shaped series of fault lines, and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity.

Pyroclastic flow rolls down the slope of Mount Semeru during the eruption on Sunday. (The Associated Press)

With files from Reuters

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