More than 200 rescue workers with bulldozers and cranes worked through clouds of ash on Wednesday to clear debris and look for survivors from an Indonesian volcano that erupted last weekend in what officials called the biggest eruption in decades.
At least 126 people were killed when Mount Semeru erupted last Saturday, spraying rocks and ash up to 3 kilometers (2 miles) into the air. About 170 people remained missing Wednesday.
Early Wednesday, farmers and villagers worked with shovels to dig a pit in an attempt to find more survivors. Others used pickaxes to search for bodies in the shade of coconut trees.
Villagers described seeing women and children fleeing with only flip-flops, blood and suitcases as the volcano shook on Saturday.
Worshippers at a local Buddhist temple built over the crater flocked to watch workers dig out bodies from a mass grave next to the building. Bodies wrapped in white cloth were placed in a line on the floor. A woman bellowed out a prayer as Buddhist monks chanted Buddhist mantras.
A relative of one of the victims, Isha Irwandi, said the family of three siblings from Diliwan district, located around 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the crater, had gone out Sunday morning to harvest rice and were returning to their home when the volcano erupted.
She said residents near the volcano are being encouraged to move to safer areas but have been reluctant, saying “we must protect our homes.”
The latest eruption follows two minor eruptions last month and dozens of smaller eruptions over the past two years.
The eruption prompted the temporary closure of schools in Semeru district. National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said many residents have left the area, but authorities have set up temporary shelters for the displaced.
The area is popular with tourists, and visitors near the mountain are encouraged to stay away from the crater.
Mount Semeru’s last major eruption in 1976 killed at least 55 people. The volcano, located in the east of the island of Java, is a popular vacation spot and homes thousands of people.