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Mount Sinabung Searches Halted; Eruption Makes Conditions Unsafe

By Clyde Hughes   |   Tuesday, 04 Feb 2014 08:42 AM

Indonesian search and recovery teams were forced to pull back from looking for victims near the volcano Mount Sinabung on the western island of Sumatra, as the area was deemed too dangerous.

Saturday's eruption, which sent ash and lava as hot as 700 degrees from its crater, swallowed the village of Sukameriah, officials told CNN. The official death toll is 15 but that can change once search and recovery efforts resume. 

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Sukameriah is located in what was considered an off-limits red zone near the volcano's crater. Officials told Agence France-Presse that locals have been caught trespassing into restricted areas to check on their houses, belongings, and crops. The countryside has been cloaked with grey dust since the eruption.

Recovery teams, made up of local rescue workers, military personnel and police, searched the affected region for two days before conditions became too unstable. The search was operating within a three-kilometer radius of the volcano, Disaster Mitigation official Taufik Kartiko told CNN.

"We suspect there are more victims but we cannot recover them because the victims are in the path of the hot (ash) clouds," said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency.

Nugroho said that 14 of the victims have been identified, with four being high school students on a sightseeing trip to the volcano.

"The bodies were in a state where, even though their skin did not peel, their faces were swollen and the tongues were sticking out," AFP reported.

Numerous government agencies and humanitarian groups arrived to the region to assist those affected by the explosion, including World Vision, which helped children manage their trauma and hygiene, CNN reported.

The Indonesian government and churches distributed masks to those suffering from breathing problems.

Mount Sinabung is one of 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia in an area of the Pacific Ocean called the Pacific Ring of Fire. Mount Sinabung had been dormant for 400 years before it erupted again in 2010.

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