Mount Merapi, Indonesia Villagers burned incense and floated offerings to the spirits, hoping to ward off an eruption of Mount Merapi, but activity at the volcano intensified today - with one blast sending ash, rock and gases more than two miles down the slope.
A scientist warned on Sunday that a growing lava dome could collapse. Today, as activity increased, villagers who had not left were told to stand by for possible evacuation and waited in groups by the side of the road on the slopes of the volcano.
One of the eruptions was the most powerful yet, sending ash, rock fragments and volcanic gas almost 2 1/2 miles down the mountain's western flank, said Ratdomopurbo, the region's chief vulcanologist.
Despite a government evacuation order, many farmers were in the fields to tend animals and crops on the volcano's fertile slopes, ignoring black clouds billowing into the sky and fresh scars scorched by lava flows on the mountain's western flank.
More than 4,500 people living in villages closest to the crater or next to rivers that could provide paths for hot lava had been evacuated by Sunday, a day after scientists raised the alert status for Merapi to the highest warning after weeks of volcanic activity.
In one of the villages in the shadow of Merapi, holy men and hundreds of people lit incense and set rice, fruit and vegetables floating down a river in a ceremony they believed would appease the spirits and prevent an eruption.
"It's bound to help," Parsi, a villager who like many Indonesians using only one name, said after the ceremony. "Everyone around here believes in this. It is in our blood."
Although most Indonesians are Muslim, many also worship ancient spirits, especially in Central Java province.
"All the things we are doing here are to try to make us safe," said Assize Asyhori, an Islamic preacher who took part in the ceremony. "Only Allah knows if Merapi will explode."
The mountain, which is one of 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia, sent out a searing cloud of gas that burned 60 people to death when it last erupted in 1994. About 1,300 people died in a 1930 eruption.