Rescuers find last missing hiker on volcano

Anxious wait: A relative of a victim of the volcanic eruption (centre) being assisted by family members as they wait for news on their loved ones at rescuers’ base in Agam, West Sumatra. — AP

The last hiker missing after a volcano eruption in Indonesia was found dead, rescuers said, raising the death toll to 23 three days after the disaster.

Mount Marapi on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia’s west spewed an ash tower 3,000m – taller than the volcano itself – into the sky on Sunday as 75 people hiked in the area.

Hundreds of rescuers have worked tirelessly to find the missing hikers, who have been carried down the mountain in bodybags in an arduous search effort hampered by further eruptions and bad weather that sometimes forced workers to take shelter.

“The joint search and rescue team has found one victim of the Mount Marapi eruption, who is now in the process of being evacuated,” Abdul Malik, head of the Padang Search and Rescue Agency, told reporters yesterday evening.

Basarnas, the national search and rescue agency, earlier identified the final hiker as a woman.

It came after Suharyono, the West Sumatra police chief who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told reporters late on Tuesday that the last hiker was feared dead.

“At least 23 people are suspected to have died. We all prayed they all could be rescued but there was nothing we could do, God and nature had made a decision,” he said.

Marapi, which means “Mountain of Fire”, was still billowing a column of smoke into the sky yesterday morning before another eruption just after midday local time, an AFP journalist said.

Fiery peak: Mount Marapi spewing volcanic ash during an eruption as seen from Sungai Pua in Agam, West Sumatra. — AFPFiery peak: Mount Marapi spewing volcanic ash during an eruption as seen from Sungai Pua in Agam, West Sumatra. — AFP

Officials monitoring the volcano had also detected at least five further eruptions on Tuesday as the search went on.

Fifty-two people had been rescued since the eruption and some of the survivors have described their panic after it started.

“I was zig-zagging, going down around 30 to 40m to a trekking post,” Ridho, 22, said from a bed in a nearby hospital.

“The eruption sounded loud, I took a look behind and then immediately ran away as everyone did. Some jumped and fell. I took cover behind the rocks, there were no trees there.”

Suharyono said on Tuesday evening that two of the 75 hikers were police officers, one of whom survived.

He suspected the other had been killed.

“They both just wanted to see the volcano, they were off duty,” he said.

“One of them survived and had a broken arm, he is being treated by doctors. For the other one, we suspected he died. Let’s wait for confirmation.”

A funeral was held yesterday for 20-year-old climber Yasirli Amri in the village of Turawan in West Sumatra’s Tanah Datar region.

A video that Yasirli filmed of herself awaiting rescue after the volcano erupted went viral in social media.

In it, she is seen lying down, her face caked in thick, grey ash, as she struggles to breathe.

“My sister was still holding her mobile phone and she tried to ask for help through social media,” Yasirli’s brother, Fransua Mitra, said at the funeral, adding that it was her first time climbing a mountain.

Her close friend, Ridho Maulana Putra, described her as “a good person and was always smiling”.

The head of Indonesia’s volcanology agency, Hendra Gunawan, said Marapi has been at the second level of a four-tier alert system since 2011, and a 3km exclusion zone had been imposed around its crater.

Ahmad Basuki, another official at the volcanology agency, said the body could only issue safety warnings, and that it was up to the environment ministry and local authorities to enforce them. — AFP/Reuters

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