Surabaya, Indonesia Dr Sujeng Widodo has just finished his last shift in the shadows of Indonesia’s fearsome Mount Semeru – an active volcano on the island of Java that erupted Saturday night after torrential rains caused the crater to collapse.
Since the volcanic eruption, which has sent a cloud of ash into the air 4 kilometers (2.48 miles) and caused deadly volcanic mudflows, a vet has volunteered at the site of the disaster that killed more than 30 people and left dozens missing and at least 3,000 others. displaced.
Widodo is the East Java II volunteer team coordinator for the Indonesian Veterinary Medical Association (IVMA) working to help and rescue some of the forgotten victims of the volcanic eruption: the area’s animals and livestock.
Along with his small team of three to four other volunteers, vets work from sunrise to sunset alongside veterinary paramedics to evacuate and treat animals suffering from burns, smoke inhalation, and other injuries.
“Today I was in Supetorang village. We evacuated 150 cows and 200 sheep.”
We have found 17 dead cows and 50 dead sheep so far. Some of the animals that were injured and could not be saved were immediately sold by their owners.”
The area around the volcano is known for two things: the sand mining industry and its cultivation. Green lands surround the mountain and the fertile volcanic soil it produces, and the greenery makes it an ideal place to graze cattle, goats and sheep.
“This will be the day I die.”
Marzuki Suganda, a 30-year-old truck driver at a local sand mine, told Al Jazeera that he knows nearly all the dead and missing, many of them farmers who were on the mountain slopes and were either unable or unwilling to leave their animals and flee in time.
Suganda, who was on his way home from work in the sand mine on the day of the eruption, said the sky darkened before volcanic rocks flew into the air, hitting his head and back, causing him to fall to the ground. .
I thought, ‘This will be the day I die.’ I was ready. I thought, ‘It’s okay. I was born here in Kurok Kobokan Village and will die here too.’
“Life and death flashed before my eyes.”
As he searched for a place to take refuge, Suganda said there was simply nowhere to go as houses were destroyed by falling debris, causing him to bend over to the side of the road and cover his head with his motorcycle helmet and hands. The animals grazing on the side of the road were buried in the thick ash that descended on the villages around Semeru.
The explosion also destroyed Suganda’s house. The tiles collapsed under the weight of volcanic ash and heat, and the roof of his house was replaced by a giant manhole.
My house is no longer livable. It shocked me,” he said.
Suganda, his wife and five-year-old daughter are now sheltering in a nearby village with other residents of the area while they wait to be permanently evacuated and resettled elsewhere. There are 11 goats also staying with the displaced villagers, who tried in vain to save their cattle when the eruption began.
Everything is covered in ashes
Some of the villagers who took shelter in him sold any livestock they could salvage because they were no longer able to keep them.
Suganda and Widodo said there was something of a buying frenzy as villagers in nearby areas unaffected by the eruption and livestock dealers bought surplus animals.
According to veterinarian Widodo, the biggest challenge now is finding enough fresh green space for the animals that survived the disaster.
“Everything is now covered in ashes,” he said. “If animals eat that, they will get respiratory infections and start coughing.”
Widodo said he and his colleagues are now working to stockpile fresh grass, supplements and medicines for infected and deposed animals.
While supplies are plentiful, in part due to the IVMA group’s online fundraising drive, getting food and medicine to the right locations is a challenge, as is storing grass and other plants so they don’t rot before they are eaten.
“The affected area is not safe because Mount Semeru is still active, so access to the affected sites is limited,” Abdul Mahari, head of the disaster information and communications center at the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) told Al Jazeera. .
“We are still trying to evacuate all the surviving livestock.”
The volcano erupted again on Monday, sending smoke and ash into the sky and hampering rescue efforts.
Semeru is one of at least 100 active volcanoes in Indonesia, located on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” – the confluence of tectonic plates that create frequent seismic activity.
In addition to caring for the remaining livestock, Widodo said there are other concerns about how to handle the dead so that in the aftermath of the eruption the disease does not spread, as the animals will begin to decompose relatively quickly.
“Currently one of the most urgent things we need to do is to survey and count the dead animals that have started to rot,” Widodo said, adding that logistics were again difficult due to the remote locations involved.
“These animals are close to Semeru Peak and many of them were in houses or cages that collapsed due to the eruption,” he said.
A few days after the explosion, Suganda ventured back to his home to see if he could find and save some of his belongings such as documents and jewellery.
He could barely open his door because of the volcanic mud at a depth of 40 centimeters (16 in) in places.
“Thank God, I was able to find some important papers like school certificates and house certificate. I was able to save them even though they were covered in mud. I have already dealt with the condition of the house. What else can I do, it was destroyed,” he said.
As he looked around his mud-covered village, Suganda noticed the eerie calm that pervaded the normally noisy community.
“The only things that are still alive are chickens and cats,” he said.