Archive for Thursday, November 4, 2010

Huge Mount Merapi volcano blast spurs more Indonesians to flee

November 4, 2010

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— Indonesia’s deadly volcano sent a burst of searing gas high into the air today, hours after its most explosive eruption in a deadly week triggered an exodus from villages and emergency shelters along its rumbling slopes.

After days of continual explosions, and warnings that pressure inside Mount Merapi may still be building, the province warned it was running out of money to help more than 70,000 people forced from their homes.

Soldiers loaded women and crying children into trucks while rocks and debris rained from the sky late Wednesday afternoon. Several abandoned mountainside homes were set ablaze and the carcasses of incinerated cattle littered the scorched flanks.

No new casualties were reported after the new fiery blasts.

“This is an extraordinary eruption,” said Surono, a state volcanologist who had earlier said energy building up behind a magma dome in the crater appeared to be easing.

He said Wednesday’s powerful blast, which dusted cars, trees and roads in towns up to 130 miles away in gray ash, had triple the force of the first eruption on Oct. 26.

The follow-up before dawn Thursday was strong as well, sending rocks cascading down the western slopes.

“We have no idea what’s happening,” Surono said, as he shook his head, watching the bobbing needle of a seismograph machine. “It looks like we may be entering an even worse stage now.”

Mount Merapi, which means “Fire Mountain,” has erupted many times in the last century, often with deadly results.

Forty people have died since it burst back to life just over a week ago, said Heru Nugroho, a spokesman at the main hospital dealing with the dead and injured. In 1994, 60 people were killed, while in 1930, more than a dozen villages were torched, leaving up to 1,300 dead.

Still, as with other volcanoes in this seismically charged country, tens of thousands call its fertile slopes home. Most now are packed in crowded government camps well away from the base.

Djarot Nugroho, the head of Central Java’s disaster management agency, said money to buy instant noodles, clean water, medicine and other supplies would run out within five days unless the Indonesian government declares a national disaster, bringing in much-needed federal funds.

There have been more than a dozen strong eruptions at Merapi in the last week — including another one earlier Wednesday — and thousands of volcanic tremors and ash bursts.

The danger zone was widened from 6 miles to 9 miles from the peak because of the heightened threat.

“I (didn’t) think of anything else except to save my wife and son. We left my house and everything,” said Tentrem Wahono, 50, who fled with his family on a motorbike from their village of Kaliurang.

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