Flash floods caused by heavy rain and cold lava flow kill 37 in Indonesia

Heavy rain and torrents of cold lava and mud flowing down a volcano’s slopes on Indonesia’s Sumatra island have triggered flash floods that killed at least 37 people and left more than a dozen others missing.

Monsoon rains and a major mudslide from a cold lava flow on Mount Marapi caused a river to breach its banks and tear through mountainside villages in Agam and Tanah Datar districts in West Sumatra province just before midnight on Saturday.

National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Abdul Muhari said the floods swept away people and submerged more than 100 houses and buildings.

Cold lava, also known as lahar, is a mixture of volcanic material and pebbles that flow down a volcano’s slopes in the rain.

By Sunday, rescuers had pulled out 19 bodies in the worst-hit village of Canduang and recovered nine others in the neighbouring village of Sungai Pua, Mr Muhari said.

Flash flood damage
A man walks past the wreckage of cars and a motorcycle swept away by a flash flood in Agam (Ali Nayaka/AP)

Flash floods on Saturday night also caused main roads around the Anai Valley Waterfall area in Tanah Datar district to be blocked by mud, cutting off access to other cities, Padang Panjang police chief Kartyana Putra said.

Videos released by the National Search and Rescue Agency showed roads that were transformed into murky brown rivers.

The disaster came just two months after heavy rains triggered flash floods and a landslide in West Sumatra’s Pesisir Selatan and Padang Pariaman districts, killing at least 21 people and leaving five others missing.

Mount Marapi erupted late last year killing 23 climbers who were caught by a surprise weekend eruption.

The volcano has stayed at the third highest of four alert levels since 2011, indicating above-normal volcanic activity under which climbers and villagers must stay about two miles from the peak, according to Indonesia’s Centre for Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation.

Marapi is known for sudden eruptions that are difficult to predict because the source is shallow and near the peak, and its eruptions are not caused by a deep movement of magma, which sets off tremors that register on seismic monitors.

Marapi has been active since an eruption in January 2023 that caused no casualties.

It is among more than 120 active volcanoes in Indonesia. The country is prone to seismic upheaval because of its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.

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