Sunday morning arrived in North Sumatra, Indonesia, with webcams from the Indonesia Geologic Agency showing a translucent sky the color of dirty milk enveloping the top of Mount Sinabung, the volcano that had erupted several times on Saturday.
Plumes of ash had spewed more than a mile into the sky and descended in superheated clouds impossible for those too close to the volcano to escape. By the time the final eruption had ended, at least 15 people had been killed, a government official told CNN.
The victims, and at least three other injured people, were all found in Sukameriah, a village close to the volcano’s crater, disaster mitigation agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told CNN.
Local search and rescue teams were scheduled to go on a recovery operation Sunday morning, he said.
Eruptions at Mount Sinabung are becoming common. After about 400 years of minimal volcanic activity there, Sinabung erupted in 2010. It has been spewing gas since September.
The English-language Jakarta Post said while 31 people previously had died from eruption-related illnesses such as depression, asthma and hypertension, Saturday’s deaths were the first ones directly attributed to volcanic output.
The unpredictable volcanic volatility has meant an itinerant existence for those who live in this region a 2½ hour flight from Jakarta. Last month, intensifying volcanic activity forced 22,000 people into temporary camps, but more than half were allowed to return home on Friday.
The newest volcanic activity has forced people to evacuate 16 villages, the Jakarta Post reported. So, now, 30,000 people are temporarily housed at 42 evacuation centers, according to Billy Sumuan, the emergency response director in Indonesia for the humanitarian group World Vision.
Saturday’s victims lived within a 3-kilometer radius of the volcano. Some were there checking on their homes or were there just to watch the eruptions, Nugroho said. Others were students and volunteers in the region to help its beleaguered people, Sumuan said.
The government had issued the highest level of alert for the latest eruptions, and Sumuan noted that no one was supposed to go inside a 5-kilometer zone around the volcano.
Live video of the volcano
Several government agencies and nongovernmental humanitarian groups were on the scene Sunday helping those affected, including World Vision, which Sumuan said was helping children with their trauma and hygiene. The government and local churches handed out masks to everyone to mitigate breathing problems, he said.