Volcano erupts in Indonesia; officials warn time is running out to save tsunami victims

U.S. & World

A volcano erupted Wednesday on the same central Indonesian island struck last week by a powerful earthquake and tsunami, and authorities warned planes about volcanic ash in the air.

Mount Soputan on Sulawesi island spewed a massive column of ash more than 6,000 meters (19,700 feet) into the sky just before 8 a.m. on Wednesday (9 p.m. Tuesday ET), according to Indonesian disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, according to The Associated Press.

No evacuations were immediately ordered.

A government volcanologist said it’s possible the eruption was accelerated by the magnitude 7.5 earthquake that struck on Friday.

“It could be that this earthquake triggered the eruption, but we have seen an increase in volcanic activity since July and this began surging on Monday. Yet we can’t say there a direct link, as the mountain is quite far away,” Kasbani, the head of Indonesia’s Volcanology and Geology Disaster Mitigation Agency, said on local television.

Kasbani, who uses one name, said planes have been warned to avoid the area.

Officials warned there could be just days left to rescue the remaining trapped survivors of Friday’s earthquake and tsunami, Indonesia’s disaster agency said Wednesday, as the already-high death toll continued to grow, according to CNN.

But the eruption of the volcano has highlighted the difficult task facing authorities in the geographically unstable region.

The ash cloud rose four kilometers high over the devastated island, but so far the local airport remains open and no evacuations have been required, Sutopo said.

The eruption hasn’t yet slowed rescue efforts in Palu, where Sutopo said authorities were only just within the seven-day window in which there is a chance survivors “still exist.”

It gives rescue crews less than two days to finish combing the rubble for possible signs of life.

The death toll jumped again on Wednesday, rising to 1,407 amid warnings from authorities that the casualty count is expected to rise even further as search efforts continue.

“So many bodies haven’t been recovered yet,” Willem Rampangilei, head of Indonesia’s National Board for Disaster Management, told reporters on Tuesday.

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