JAKARTA: Indonesian President Joko Widodo promised on Tuesday (Dec 7) to bolster evacuation efforts and repair damaged homes after visiting the Mount Semeru disaster zone following the devastating volcanic eruption on Java.
The 3,676m high volcano erupted spectacularly on Saturday, shooting a towering cloud of ash into the sky and dangerous pyroclastic flows down the slopes of the mountain into villages below.
At least 34 people have died, while 17 remain missing, the disaster agency spokesman Abdul Muhari told AFP.
Almost 3,700 people have been evacuated from the affected area, he added.
After visiting evacuation centres and surveying the affected areas via helicopter - an aerial view of villages submerged in thick, molten ash - the president said recovery efforts would be bolstered now and in the months ahead.
"I came to the site to ensure that we have the forces to locate the victims," said the president, speaking from Sumberwuluh, one of the worst affected areas.
"We hope that after everything has subsided, that everything can start: Fixing infrastructure or even relocating those from the places we predict are too dangerous to return to."
At least 2,000 homes would have to be relocated to safer areas, he said.
Search and rescue efforts were ongoing on Tuesday but have been hampered in recent days by heavy wind and rain and limited equipment in some areas.
The president's visit came as Mount Semeru erupted three times on Tuesday, and amid warnings from the country’s geological agency that heightened seismic activity could continue.
Andiani, the head of Indonesia's Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation (PVMBG) told a press briefing on Monday there was potential for further pyroclastic flows, or fast-moving avalanches of hot gas, ash and rocks.
Mount Semeru is one of more than 100 active volcanoes in Indonesia, a country that precariously straddles the "Pacific Ring of Fire", an area of high seismic activity that rests atop multiple tectonic plates.