A group of 23 climbers were caught in a deadly volcanic eruption on Sunday, as Mount Marapi, one of the most active volcanoes in Indonesia, spewed a massive column of ash and gas into the sky. Eleven bodies have been recovered so far, while 12 others are still missing and feared dead.
The climbers were part of a local hiking club that had planned to reach the summit of the 2,910-meter (9,550-foot) volcano, located on the island of Sumatra, on Sunday morning. They had set up camp at a post about 3,000 meters from the crater on Saturday night, according to the head of the club, Rizal.
However, around 10:30 a.m. local time on Sunday, the volcano suddenly erupted, sending a plume of ash and smoke up to 3 kilometers (10,000 feet) into the air. The eruption was followed by several smaller blasts and a series of pyroclastic flows, which are fast-moving clouds of hot gas and volcanic material that can reach temperatures of up to 700 degrees Celsius (1,300 degrees Fahrenheit).
The pyroclastic flows swept through the area where the climbers were camping, as well as several villages on the slopes of the volcano. The flows destroyed houses, crops, and infrastructure, and forced thousands of people to evacuate. The authorities raised the alert level for the volcano to the second-highest, and warned of possible further eruptions.
A rescue team composed of soldiers, police, and volunteers was dispatched to the scene, but faced difficulties in reaching the victims due to the thick ash and the unstable conditions. The team managed to find 11 bodies, some of them charred beyond recognition, and brought them down to a nearby hospital for identification. The search for the remaining 12 climbers is still ongoing, but the chances of finding them alive are slim, according to the rescue team leader, Surya.
Mount Marapi is one of the most active and dangerous volcanoes in Indonesia, a country that lies on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a belt of seismic and volcanic activity that encircles the Pacific Ocean. The volcano has erupted regularly since 1548, and has claimed hundreds of lives in the past. The last major eruption occurred in 2010, when it killed more than 350 people and displaced 350,000 others.