Evacuations resume after volcano erupts
JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Improved weather conditions today allowed rescuers to resume evacuation efforts and a search for possible victims after the highest volcano on Indonesia's most densely populated island erupted, triggered by monsoon rains.
Mount Semeru in Lumajang district in East Java province spewed thick columns of ash more than 5,000 feet into the sky Sunday. Villages and nearby towns were blanketed with falling ash that blocked out the sun, but no casualties have been reported.
Hundreds of rescuers were deployed today in the worst-hit villages of Sumberwuluh and Supiturang, where houses and mosques were buried to their rooftops by tons of volcanic debris.
Heavy rains had eroded and finally collapsed the lava dome atop the 12,060-foot volcano, causing an avalanche of blistering gas and lava down its slopes toward a nearby river. Searing gas raced down the sides of the mountain, smothering entire villages and destroying a bridge that had just been rebuilt after a powerful eruption last year.
Semeru's last major eruption was in December 2021, leaving 51 people dead in villages that were buried in layers of mud. Several hundred others suffered serious burns and the eruption forced the evacuation of more than 10,000 people. The government moved about 2,970 houses out of the danger zone, which was widened to 5 miles from the crater, including from Sumberwuluh village.
Israeli planes fire on Gaza Strip sites
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israeli aircraft struck several military sites in the Gaza Strip early Sunday, hours after Palestinian militants fired a missile into southern Israel in a move apparently linked to rising tension in the occupied West Bank, Israel officials said.
The Israeli military said the airstrikes targeted a weapons manufacturing facility and an underground tunnel belonging to Hamas, the militant group that has controlled Gaza since 2007. The military said more projectiles were fired over the border while warplanes were hitting the Gaza sites.
No Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the Saturday evening rocket, which landed in an open area near the Gaza-Israel fence. The border has been quiet since August's three-day blitz between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a powerful Gaza group that is smaller than the dominant Hamas.
Hamas and other factions have largely honored the unofficial understandings that have kept the situation in the impoverished territory calm in exchange for thousands of Israeli work permits. Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on Gaza to prevent Hamas from stockpiling weapons.
Nine dead after flash flood in S. Africa
JOHANNESBURG -- At least nine people died and eight others were missing in South Africa after a flash flood swept away members of a church congregation along the Jukskei River in Johannesburg, rescue officials said Sunday.
The dead and missing were all part of the congregation, which was conducting religious rituals along the river Saturday, officials said. Rescue workers reported finding the bodies of two victims that day and another seven bodies when the search-and-recovery mission resumed Sunday morning.
The teams were interviewing people from the congregation to establish how many others were unaccounted for.
Religious groups frequently gather along the Jukskei River, which runs past townships such as Alexandra in the east of Johannesburg, for baptisms and ritual cleansing.
Johannesburg Emergency Services spokesman Robert Mulaudzi said Sunday that officials had warned residents about the dangers of conducting the rituals along the river.
"We have been receiving a lot of rain on the city of Johannesburg in the last three months, and most of the river streams are now full. Our residents, especially congregants who normally practice these kinds of rituals, will be tempted to go to these river streams," Mulaudzi said during a news briefing.
2,500 seals found dead on Russia coast
MOSCOW -- About 2,500 seals have been found dead on the Caspian Sea coast in southern Russia, officials said Sunday.
Authorities in the Russian province of Dagestan said it was unclear why the mass die-off happened, but that it was likely due to natural causes.
Regional officials initially reported Saturday that 700 dead seals were found on the coast, but the Dagestan division of the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment later raised the figure to about 2,500.
Zaur Gapizov, head of the Caspian Environmental Protection Center, said in a statement that the seals likely died a couple of weeks ago. He added that there was no sign they were killed or caught in fishing nets.
Experts from the Federal Fisheries Agency and prosecutors inspected the coastline and collected data for laboratory research, which didn't immediately spot any pollutants.
Several previous incidents of mass seal deaths were attributed to natural causes.
-- Compiled by Democrat-Gazette staff from wire reports