Mount Marapi Eruption: Unraveling the Impact and Ongoing Rescue Efforts in Indonesia’s Volcanic Crisis
With over 130 active volcanoes, the Indonesian archipelago sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, where the meeting of continental plates causes high volcanic and seismic activity.
Located on the island of Sumatra, Mount Marapi, which means “Mountain of Fire,” is among the most active of Indonesia’s volcanoes and is also popular among hikers. Some trails reopened only last June due to ash eruptions from January to February.
On December 3 at 2:54 PM, the locals of West Sumatra were horrified to see Mount Marapi erupting, sending a plume of ash approximately 3 km into the sky.
According to The New York Times, seismologists said that the eruption on Sunday came without the preamble that often precedes such activity.
Immediately After the Eruption
Following the eruption, there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.
Ms Dian Indriati, the interim head of the agency, said in a video statement that approximately 70 hikers had registered at two entry points to Mount Marapi via an online booking system since Saturday (2 December 2023).
The West Sumatra natural resources conservation agency initiated evacuations, with 28 individuals successfully evacuated, leaving 42 hikers unaccounted for.
Immediate efforts were dispatched to rescue the remaining hikers.
Hendrawan Gunawan, head of Indonesia’s Centre of Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation, reported that ash was observed 3,000m above Mount Marapi’s peak, and the eruption was ongoing.
Authorities prohibited communities and tourists from hiking within a 3 km radius from the crater or peak. Ash rain was also reported in Bukittinggi city, West Sumatra, with advisories for residents to wear protective gear.
24 Hours Following the Eruption
As of 4 December 2023, the bodies of 11 hikers were discovered near Marapi’s crater, and another 12 were reported missing.
According to the local rescue officials, three hikers were found alive, and 49 had safely descended from the crater, some with burns and fractures.
Local rescue agency chief Abdul Malik stated that as of the afternoon of 4 December, neither the three survivors nor the 11 dead bodies had reached the bottom of the mountain as heavy rain and poor visibility hampered rescue efforts.
He also revealed that about 120 rescuers are involved in the response.
Navigating the challenging terrain and sporadic eruptions, rescuers worked tirelessly to assist injured and burnt survivors stranded on the mountain, as well as continue searching for the missing hikers.
Another small eruption the same day caused the search to be temporarily suspended for a few hours.
As rescue efforts were underway, family members anxiously awaited news at an information center, their view of the mountain obscured by smoke.
“I will stay here until I hear some news,” said the father of missing hiker Zakir Habibi, Mr. Dasman.
The worried parent had made a two-hour drive from Padang city to the base of the mountain on 3 December in hopes of good news regarding his son.
An official from the West Sumatra police medical unit revealed that forensic workers are also at the scene preparing to identify the dead through their dental and fingerprint records or based on marks such as birthmarks and tattoos.
As the search continued, a shocking video surfaced online showing one of the survivors, 19-year-old Zhafirah Zahrim Febrina pleading to her mother for help.
She said in the video with her face burnt and hair covered with ash and soot, “Mum, help Ife. This is Ife’s situation right now.”
Febrina was promptly found and is receiving medical care at a hospital. Her mother expressed relief, acknowledging the psychological trauma Febrina endured during the night on the mountain. “If she asks me to allow her to climb a mountain, I’ll say no,” she concluded.
Latest Updates (5 December 2023)
Ahmad Rifandi, head of Marapi’s monitoring post, revealed on Tuesday it had observed five eruptions from midnight to 9am Singapore time.
On the afternoon of 5 December 2023, the death toll from the eruption increased from 11 to 22.
Syahlul Munal told BBC News Indonesia that rescuers are taking advantage of windows of relative calm to look for the remaining 10 missing.
The two bodies retrieved on Tuesday were found in separate locations from the 11 found the day before.
However, as of 8PM SGT, 5 December 2023, the death toll from the eruption increased from 11 to 22, Abdul Malik revealed.
“Nine of 10 missing victims were found dead this afternoon and at the moment, they are being evacuated. There is one remaining victim currently in the search,” he elaborated.
Rescue efforts will continue for seven days until all missing hikers are accounted for.
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