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11 hikers dead, 12 missing after Indonesia's Marapi volcano erupts

Eleven hikers were found dead Monday and another 12 were missing after a volcano erupted in Indonesia, with rescuers racing to carry injured and burned survivors down the mountain on foot. 

Indonesian authorities halted the search for those still missing after Mount Marapi erupted again, unleashing a new burst of hot ash as high as 800 meters, or 2,620 feet, into the air, the Associated Press reported. Abdul Malik, West Sumatra's Search and Rescue Agency head, said the search operation would resume once conditions improved.

There were 75 hikers in the area at the time of the eruption, but most were safely evacuated, the BBC reported.   

Rescuers worked through the night to find dozens of hikers stranded on the volcano on the island of Sumatra after it spewed an ash tower 3,000 meters — taller than the volcano itself — into the sky on Sunday.

The dead hikers were found near Marapi's crater after the 2,891-meter volcano rained ash on nearby villages, according to a local rescue official.

Twelve were missing, three more were found alive and 49 had safely descended from the crater, some with burns and fractures, the official said. 

"They are being carried down manually, rescuers are taking turns bringing them down. We can't do an air search with a helicopter because the eruption is ongoing," said Malik, who added about 120 rescuers were involved in the search.

Indonesia Volcano Eruption
Motorists ride past by as Mount Marapi spews volcanic materials during its eruption in Agam, West Sumatra, Indonesia, Monday, Dec. 4, 2023. Ardhy Fernando / AP

The three other people who had been found alive were yet to be taken down the mountain, along with the 11 dead.

Those three survivors were found near the crater and "their condition was weak, and some had burns," Malik said.

A clip shared with AFP showed a rescue worker with a flashlight strapped to his head piggybacking a hiker, who moans in pain and says "God is greatest" as she is led to safety in the darkness of night.

The search for 12 others missing was suspended due to a small eruption, the BBC reported.  

Bu local rescue agency spokesperson Jodi Haryawan said the search continued despite the risks.

"Once it was safer, they continued the search. So, the search was not halted," he told AFP.

"Tremendous trauma"  

Zhafirah Zahrim Febrina, one of the rescued hikers, is shown in a video message from the volcano desperately appealing to her mother for help.

The 19-year-old student appeared shocked, her face burnt and her hair matted with thick grey ash.

"Mom, help Ife. This is Ife's situation right now," she said, referring to her nickname.

She is now in a nearby hospital with her father and uncle after being trapped on the mountain on a hiking trip with 18 school friends.

"She is going through a tremendous trauma," said her mother Rani Radelani, 39.

"She is affected psychologically because she saw her burns, and she also had to endure the pain all night."

Rudy Rinaldi, head of the West Sumatra Disaster Mitigation Agency, told AFP some of the rescued hikers had suffered burns.

"Those who are injured were the ones who got closer to the crater," he said.

Indonesia Volcano Eruption
Mount Marapi spewed thick columns of ash as high as 3,000 meters, or 9,800 feet, into the sky in a sudden eruption Sunday. Hot ash clouds spread several miles. Ardhy Fernando / AP

At least eight people suffered burns, one had burns and a fracture and another had a head wound, according to a list of those found from Basarnas, a national search and rescue agency, seen by AFP.

Ahmad Rifandi, an official at the Mount Marapi monitoring station, told AFP that ash rain was observed after the eruption and had reached Bukittinggi, the third-largest city in West Sumatra that has a population of more than 100,000.

The plume of smoke and ash blocked out the sun after the eruption and coated nearby cars, scooters and ambulances.

The Indonesian archipelago sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, where the meeting of continental plates causes high volcanic and seismic activity. The Southeast Asian country has nearly 130 active volcanoes.

The Mount Marapi volcano has stayed at the third-highest of four alert levels since 2011, a level indicating above-normal volcanic activity, prohibiting climbers and villagers within 3 kilometers — or 1.8 miles — of the peak, said Hendra Gunawan, the head of the Center 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 broke the rules to fulfill their satisfaction to climb further."

As the search goes on for the missing 12 hikers, Febrina's family was relieved she was one of the lucky ones.

Good news arrived in the form of a livestream on video app TikTok by a member of the rescue services, in which Radelani saw her visibly shaken daughter.

"It felt incredible, praise God she has been found," Radelani said.

"If she asks me to allow her to climb a mountain, I'll say no."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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