‘I thought the world was coming to an end’: Hikers caught up in volcano eruption

‘I thought the world was coming to an end’: Hikers caught up in volcano eruption

December 4, 2023

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Singapore/Jakarta: With hot clouds of dust and gravel already engulfing the air, the stranded mountain climbers were already at the mercy of Mother Nature.

But Mount Marapi was not done yet. As 11 hikers were confirmed dead on Monday, the volcano in Indonesia’s West Sumatra province erupted for a second time in two days.

A motorist rides past by as Mount Marapi spews volcanic materials during its eruption in Agam, West Sumatra.Credit: AP

The 2891-metre peak’s initial burst of fury on Sunday sent ash 3 kilometres into the sky and villagers living in its vicinity scrambling for cover.

While Monday’s eruption was smaller it complicated efforts to find the 12 remaining climbers whose whereabouts and wellbeing was unknown, and to recover the bodies of the dead.

“Our team are taking logistics [equipment] and stretchers – they are already on the climbing path but are unable to go up due to the eruption,” said Jodi Harryawan, the spokesman for the Padang office of Indonesia’s national search and rescue agency, Basarnas.

The minaret of a mosque is seen as Mount Marapi erupts.Credit: AP

There had been 75 people on the mountain on the weekend when Marapi erupted. Fifty-two have been safely evacuated, among them three who were rescued on Monday afternoon.

“We talked to them through [walkie] talkies but we have bad signal from time to time due to the eruption,” Harryawan said. “We told them to find a safe place.”

He said the 11 people who perished were close to the crater of the volcano. Some died from burns from the hot clouds, some from asphyxiation due to the volcanic ash.

Asked about the 12 climbers still missing, the local rescue chief replied: “We still don’t have information about them”.

Some 120 personnel were involved in the rescue operation on Monday in the surrounds of Marapi, which is a popular destination for weekend adventure-seekers.

Indonesian law student Nolianus Hogejau, right, climbed Mount Marapi with a group of friends on the day it erupted.

Harryawan said most of the victims were university students, about half of them aged in their 20s.

Nolianus Hogejau, a 22-year-old law student at the University of Riau in Pekanbaru, was among those who made their way out.

He had set out with nine friends from the university’s nature club.

“We started climbing at 5am (local time) on Sunday and reached the peak by 11am. We had lunch there and around 1.30pm we started going down. Around an hour after climbing down, the six of us heard a very loud explosion,” he said.

“It was so loud that I thought the world was coming to an end. The ground and trees were shaking. Soon I saw big rocks, bigger than a soccer ball coming down from the top of the mountain. I told my friends not to panic.”

Motorists ride past by as Mount Marapi spews volcanic materials.Credit: AP

Six of them took cover beneath a large tree for about five minutes until the tumbling of rocks ceased. The other had already descended.

Marapi is one of the most active volcanoes on Sumatra island and its most deadly eruption was in April 1979 when 60 people died.

It has stayed at the third highest of four alert levels since 2011, a level indicating above-normal volcanic activity and prohibiting climbers or villagers from within 3 kilometres of the peak, said Hendra Gunawan, the head of the Centre for Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation.

“This means that there should be no climbing to the peak,” Gunawan said, adding that climbers were only allowed below the danger zone, “but sometimes many of them break the rules to fulfil their satisfaction to climb further”.

About 1400 people live on Marapi’s slopes in villages about 5 kilometres from the summit.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific’s so-called “Ring of Fire” and has 127 active volcanoes, according to the country’s volcanology agency.

– with AP and Reuters

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