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Volcanic Eruption

DANGER ZONE Ash fills the air as Mount Semeru erupts in Indonesia on December 4. HANDOUT/BNPB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The tallest volcano on Java, an island in Indonesia, erupted on December 4. Mount Semeru shot clouds of ash and smoke 40,000 feet into the air, darkening the sky. Hot gas and lava killed at least 34 people. Others are still missing.

“Trees, farms, houses are scorched, everything is covered in heavy gray ash,” Haryadi Purnomo says. He works for East Java’s search and rescue agency.

Around 3,000 houses and 38 schools were damaged. Thousands of people have been evacuated to shelters.

Days of rain triggered the eruption. At Semeru’s top is a dome of lava that’s too thick to flow. Rain caused it to fall apart. Experts say the dome could break up even more and cause an avalanche.

Semeru is one of 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia. The country’s islands sit along the Ring of Fire, a series of fault lines around the Pacific Ocean. Semeru has erupted many times in the last 200 years. There were no deaths the last time it erupted, in January.

President Joko Widodo’s government said it would move villagers who lost their homes to a safer place within six months. They’ll be given financial help while they wait.

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