RESCUERS are trying to dig out survivors after scalding ash from an erupting volcano buried villages up to the rooftops.
At least fourteen people were killed and dozens suffered burns when Mount Semeru blew its top in East Java, Indonesia.
The eruption spewed a plume of smoke and ash 50,000ft into the sky on Saturday afternoon, sparking a warning to planes.
Homes, cars and roads have been coated in volcanic ash when it fell back to earth, and a desperate search is now underway for survivors who many be buried.
Thousands fled their homes but one resident said some locals thought it was just usual floods.
He said: “We did not know it was hot mud. All of sudden, the sky turned dark as rains and hot smoke came. Thankfully, it was raining so we could breathe.”
People were photographed inspecting areas covered in ash in Lumajang, East Java.
Taufiq Ismail Marzuqi, who has been taking footage of work to excavate bodies, told Reuters the rescue efforts were “very dire”.
Terrified locals ran for their lives as the dark cloud of smoke engulfed the skies at around 2.30pm local time – blacking out the sun in two regions.
Officials confirmed that 41 people had suffered burns after the eruption, while thousands of residents have been evacuated.
But the efforts of emergency responders have been hampered by the suffocating cloud of smoke, a power blackout and rainstorms.
The downpour sent swathes of thick mud descending into villages and destroyed at least one bridge connecting Pronojiwo and Candipuro.
Around 30 buildings were also devastated by the eruption while another road and overpass from the area to the nearby city of Malang was severed by the debris.
Thoriqul Haq, a local official, told Reuters: “This has been a very pressing, rapid condition since it erupted.”
The deputy chief of Lumajang district, Indah Masdar, said: “We’re in big distress. It’s harrowing, their families are all crying.”
Rescue teams were forced to ride into the disaster zone on helicopters to save at least ten locals trapped in buildings.
Harrowing videos shared on social media show residents screaming in horror and running from the thick smoke.
Others tried to seek shelter from the falling ash which has damaged infrastructure in the area.
Local authorities set up a restricted zone within 3 miles from the crater.
The Volcanic Ash Advisory Center (VAAC) warned airlines that the ash cloud was higher than the cruising altitude for most aircraft and may cause diversions.
We’re in big distress. It’s harrowing, their families are all crying.
They said the ash appeared to have detached from the summit and was drifting southwest over the Indian Ocean.
Meteorologist Campbell Biggs told the BBC that as well as affecting visibility and air quality in the cabin, ash that solidifies on cooler parts of the plane engine could cripple the mechanics thousands of feet in the air.
Mount Semeru – the tallest volcano on the island of Java – previously erupted in January this year.
But Biggs said Saturday’s spew marked a “pretty significant increase in intensity” of the crater.
He said the ash cloud should slowly disperse.
Mount Semeru is situated 3,676m above sea level and is among around 130 other active volcanoes in Indonesia.