Indonesia: Floods and cold lava from Marapi volcano kill 37 people

video caption, Watch: Cold lava flows, floods rock Indonesia

  • Author, Kelly Ng & BBC Indonesian
  • Role, in Singapore and Jakarta

At least 37 people died after flash floods and cold lava from a volcano hit the western Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Hours of heavy rain on Saturday washed streams of ash and stones down Mount Marapi, Sumatra’s most active volcano.

The cold lava mudslides flooded two districts, killing people and damaging more than 100 houses, mosques and public facilities.

Authorities believe the death toll could rise with 18 people missing.

Survivors told how they fled as cold lava – a mix of volcanic material and pebbles that flows down the slopes of a volcano in the rain – flowed towards their homes.

“I heard thunder and a sound that resembled boiling water. It was the sound of big stones falling from Mount Marapi,” Rina Devina, a 43-year-old housewife from Agam district, told AFP.

“It was pitch black so I used my phone as a flashlight. The road was muddy so I kept shouting ‘God have mercy’,” Ms Devina said.

The mother of three added that a neighbor’s house had been “leveled by large rocks” and four of her neighbors had died.

According to the National Search and Rescue Agency, as of Sunday afternoon, rescuers had found 19 bodies in the worst-hit village of Canduang in Agam district and recovered nine more bodies in neighboring Tanah Datar district.

Berliana Reskyka, another resident of Agam, spoke about his experience helping his injured neighbors.

“Some were crying hysterically because some of their family members had not yet been held accountable. There were also those who learned that their relatives had died,” Berliana told BBC Indonesian.

image description, The cold lava mudslides flooded two districts in West Sumatra, killing people and damaging more than 100 properties.

The flooding is the latest in a series of natural disasters attributed at least in part to human activity, environmental experts told BBC Indonesian.

“Flash floods and cold lava mudslides are recurrent and increasing in intensity due to over-exploitation of natural resources and indiscriminate development,” said Wengki Purwanto, director of the West Sumatra branch of the Indonesian Environmental Forum.

“That’s why disasters happen every year. In fact, they are increasing in frequency every year. The distance between one disaster and the next is getting shorter,” he said.

Several similar disasters have occurred in the Mount Marapi area in the last six months.

On December 5, the volcano’s eruption killed 23 hikers, while flash floods damaged dozens of homes in Tanah Datar in February this year.

Just last month, eruptions that lasted for days threw huge clouds of ash – up to 2km high – into the sky. Flights in the region were disrupted, roads were closed and more than 11,000 people were ordered to evacuate.

Marapi means “mountain of fire” from the local Minang language.

image description, Several similar disasters have occurred in the Mount Marapi area in the past six months