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Indonesia ends search for victims of eruption at Mount Marapi volcano that killed 23 climbers

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BATU PALANO, Indonesia -

The search has ended for any more victims among climbers who were caught by a weekend eruption of Indonesia's Mount Marapi volcano that killed 23 people and injured several others, officials said Thursday.

About 75 climbers started up the nearly 2,900-meter (9,480-foot) mountain in Agam district of West Sumatra province on Saturday and were on the volcano when it erupted the following day.

West Sumatra Police Chief Suharyono said earlier that the discovery of the body of a female university student Wednesday had raised the confirmed death toll to 23. Officials said Thursday that they believed all the dead had been recovered.

After an evaluation of the search and rescue results, "authorities have ended the search and rescue operation in Mount Marapi as all the victims have been found by late Wednesday," said Abdul Muhari, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesperson.

The National Search and Rescue Agency said all the bodies had been taken to a hospital by late Wednesday for identification.

Some 52 climbers were rescued after the initial eruption Sunday, with about a dozen taken to hospitals with serious to minor injuries.

Marapi shot thick columns of ash as high as 3 kilometers (more than 9,800 feet) in Sunday's eruption and hot ash clouds spread for several kilometers (miles). Nearby villages and towns were blanketed by volcanic debris that blocked sunlight, and authorities recommended people wear masks as protection against the ash.

Smaller eruptions since then spewed more ash into the air, reducing visibility and temporarily halting search and recovery operations.

Marapi is known for sudden eruptions that are difficult to predict because they are not caused by a deep movement of magma, which sets off tremors that register on seismic monitors.

The volcano has been at Indonesia's second highest alert level since 2011, indicating above-normal volcanic activity under which climbers and villagers must stay more than 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from the peak, according to Indonesia's Center for Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation.

Climbers were not supposed to advance into the danger zone, but local officials acknowledged that many people may have climbed higher than permitted.

Marapi is among more than 120 active volcanoes in Indonesia. The country is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the Pacific "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.

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Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini and Edna Tarigan in Jakarta, Indonesia, contributed to this report.

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