11 hikers die as volcano erupts in Indonesia

Published December 5, 2023
A student walks as Mount Marapi volcano spews volcanic ash as seen from Nagari Batu Palano in Agam, West Sumatra province, Indonesia on December 4, 2023. — Antara Foto via AFP
A student walks as Mount Marapi volcano spews volcanic ash as seen from Nagari Batu Palano in Agam, West Sumatra province, Indonesia on December 4, 2023. — Antara Foto via AFP

AGAM: Eleven hikers were found dead on Monday and another 12 were missing after a volcano erupted in Indonesia, with rescuers racing to carry injured and burned survivors down the mountain on foot.

Rescuers worked through the night to find dozens of hikers stranded on Mount Marapi on the island of Sumatra after it spewed an ash tower 3,000 metres (9,340 feet) — taller than the volcano itself — into the sky on Sunday.

The dead hikers were found near Marapi’s crater after the 2,891-metre volcano rained ash on nearby villages, according to a local rescue official. Twelve were missing, three more were found alive and 49 had safely descended from the crater, some with burns and fractures, the official said.

“Until now I have not received any information,” said Dasman, father of missing hiker Zakir Habibi, who made a two-hour drive from Padang city to the base of the mountain last night in hope of good news.

“I will stay here until I hear some news,” said Dasman, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

Neither the three survivors nor the 11 dead bodies had reached the bottom of the mountain as of Monday afternoon, local rescue agency chief Abdul Malik said, as heavy rain and poor visibility hampered rescue efforts.

“It slowed the evacuation team”, said Malik, adding that about 120 rescuers were involved in the response. “The search will be conducted for seven days. Let’s pray they all survive,” he said. Rescuers had been carrying the survivors down by hand, since an air retrieval had been deemed impossible with the eruption still ongoing, Malik said.

A video clip showed a rescue worker with a flashlight strapped to his head piggybacking a hiker, who moans in pain and says “God is greatest” as she is carried to safety in the darkness.

At a centre for information about the missing hikers, family members waited anxiously for any news, with the view of Marapi blocked by smoke. Forensic workers were preparing to identify the dead through their dental and fingerprint records, or based on marks such as birthmarks and tattoos, said Eka Purnamasari, an official from the West Sumatra police medical unit.

Local rescue agency spokesperson Jodi Haryawan said the rescue efforts had been broken up by sporadic eruptions but the search was still going despite the risks.

At least eight survivors had suffered burns, one had burns and a fracture and another had a head wound, according to a list of those found from Basarnas, a national search and rescue agency.

Marapi is on the second alert level of Indonesia’s four-step system and authorities have imposed a three-kilometre exclusion zone around its crater. The Indonesian archipelago sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, where the meeting of continental plates causes high volcanic and seismic activity. The Southeast Asian country has nearly 130 active volcanoes.

As the search went on for the missing 12 hikers, the family of Zhafirah Zahrim Febrina said of their relief she was one of the lucky ones.

Good news arrived in the form of a livestream on video app TikTok by a member of the rescue services on which the 19-year-old could be seen.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2023

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