Indonesia’s president has vowed to rebuild communities after a powerful volcanic eruption killed at least 34 people and left thousands homeless.

Rescuers said they are still searching for 17 people, with the death toll expected to rise following the eruption of Java island’s Semeru volcano.

President Joko Widodo visited areas in Lumajang district in East Java province to speak to survivors and assess the damage caused by Saturday’s events.

He pledged to rebuild infrastructure, including the main bridge connecting Lumajang to other cities, and move more than 2,000 houses out of areas still considered dangerous.

Heavy rain triggered avalanche of lava and gas

The eruption was triggered by heavy rain and led to an avalanche of lava and gas sweeping up to seven miles (11km) down Mount Semeru’s slopes.

Relief workers have been focusing on three locations in the worst-hit village of Sumberwuluh, where people are still believed to be trapped in houses that were buried up to their rooftops.

Wayan Suyatna, who heads the local search and rescue agency, said: “The volcanic ash deposits are still at high temperatures, and the deeper we dig the hotter it gets.”

Officials said residents in the hardest-hit villages would be relocated within the next six months.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesperson Abdul Muhari said 56 people had been taken to hospital following the eruption, mostly with burns.

He said rescuers were still searching for 17 villagers reported missing, while nearly 3,000 houses and 38 schools had been damaged.

Search area was ‘geographically difficult’

Andris Rufianto Putro, a field coordinator for Semeru emergency response at Indonesian Red Cross, said the number of dead and missing was expected to rise because most of the search area was mountainous and “geographically difficult”.

On Tuesday, his teams recovered five bodies from the rubble of a home in the hamlet of Renteng with two others found dead nearby.

Five other bodies were found in the neighbouring village of Supiturang.

Food, tents, blankets and other supplies have been distributed in temporary shelters crammed with about 3,700 displaced people.

Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 270 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity because it sits along the Pacific Ring Of Fire, a horseshoe-shaped series of fault lines.

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