Rescuers battle hellish search for stranded Indonesian volcano victims

Written by By Sofia Horta , CNN Bangkok, Thailand

From the shattered remains of lush bamboo huts to the gurgling rainwater cascading from cracked ceilings, rescue workers trying to reach survivors from the recent eruption of the Indonesian volcano Mount Agung are finding a hellish recovery effort.

While areas have been declared safe for residents to return to, only a handful have left since Mount Agung erupted on Sunday — and others are still trapped, caught in either a terrifying peak-to-base eruption or completely cut off from rescuers.

Unrestrained lava and spout lava has traveled kilometres from the peak in both directions, burying nearby buildings in ash.

“We do not have good access to the area,” Welspun Anas, an official with the Kuta Regional Disaster Management Agency, told CNN. “We have to scramble all the time to get from one side to the other. It is complicated.”

Agung, a 2,460 meter-high (8,070 feet) volcano in the province of Bali, last erupted in 1963, killing more than 1,100 people and destroying thousands of homes.

The volcano has spewed lava, pulverized rock and heavy ash up to four kilometers (2.5 miles) from its peak, but, until now, the main impact on local residents has been the threat of air travel disruption.

The most recent eruption was significantly less explosive, and the country’s Bureau of Meteorology and Geophysics (BMKG) has raised the warning level to the highest level of 4.

Welspun said that where the alert is at that level, people in danger zones may still be instructed to leave their homes, but it was difficult for rescuers to enforce this rule because they could not access the evacuated area.

“We had to send authorities to our old town,” said Mari Umar, who lives in Bali’s ancient archipelago and was evacuated from her home ahead of the explosion. “They’ve come back and I see damage there, but it’s getting better. It is not overcrowded yet.”

CNN’s Uday Kotoky (@UdayKotoky) is currently in one of the evacuated zones in Denpasar and is on the ground in Bali. His coverage will continue to refresh.

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