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by Mick the Ram
The final missing hiker has sadly been accounted for on Indonesia’s Mount Marapi, with the discovery of the body of a woman, bringing the total of deaths from the volcanic eruption to twenty-three.
The others had been found over the previous few days after they were caught in a deadly explosion, bringing with it red hot ash and destructive boulders, causing death and destruction.
The volcano is the country’s most active, but nevertheless there had been no sign of imminent danger, when 75 hikers were granted permits to set off last weekend to climb a good way up its full height of 2,885 metres (9,465 ft).
Thick columns of hot ash were spewed out into the air to a height double its size and spread out over several kilometres, in a sudden and dramatic eruption that gave no prior warning, other than short rumblings, which are said to occur daily.
Nearby villages and towns were immediately blanketed by tons of volcanic debris which had the effect of blocking out all sunlight, prompting authorities to recommend that people wear face masks as a means of protection.
Twelve of the group of hikers were injured and received hospital treatment, mainly for burns, and broken bones.
Rescue workers had been searching tirelessly on the hazardous slopes for those who were missing from the returning party, initially finding two bodies, then a further nine, before locating an additional 11 two days later.
One of the most volatile locations on earth
Mount Marapi, which means “Mountain of Fire”, is in the Indonesian archipelago sitting on the so-called “Pacific Ring of Fire”, where continental tectonic plates constantly collide and cause frequent volcanic and seismic activity. The country has nearly 130 active volcanoe, but Marapi is easily the liveliest.
Terrifying experience for survivors
Survivors of the latest eruption spoke of their terror at the scale of the incident, with reports of huge rocks breaking bones and others being temporarily blinded by the thick black choking smoke, with most suffering significant burns to hands and face.
Praise for brave rescuers risking their own lives
They also praised the efforts of rescuers who carried the injured and dead down the mountain’s arduous terrain in very bad weather, risking their own lives as further eruptions continued around them. Indeed, in a little over 24 hours following the initial blast, 46 additional eruptions occurred.
Hazardous living conditions where nobody can ever properly relax
The Marapi volcano is extremely complex and is essentially not a safe place to visit. Several towns and cities are in the vicinity around the foot of the mountain, including; Padang Panjang, Batusangkar, and Bukittimggi, with residents living in constant danger.
Regular warnings for climbers over safe distancing
For over a decade, the Indonesian volcanology agency had sent monthly letters warning the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and local conservation agency that climbers should keep a safe distance from the volcano’s peak.
Unable to enforce recommendations
The recommendation is basically not to climb up to its peak, with a 3km limit in place approaching the crater. However, officials from the volcanology body said it could only issue safety warnings and that it was up to the environment ministry and local authorities to actually enforce them.
Permits issued by multiple agencies
In this incident, the conservation agency, which is under the ministry, said permits to climb were given after getting the green light from several local agencies, including the West Sumatra provincial government and national disaster agency, as well as the Padang search and rescue agency.
Some way off being costliest eruption
The volcano’s deadliest eruption happened in 1979, when 60 people were killed.