Indonesian volcano erupts again; death toll at 44At least one man was killed in the latest blast and footage showed more than a dozen injured being carried into a hospital on stretchers
By Slamet Riyadi
The Associated Press
MOUNT MERAPI, Indonesia — Eruptions at Indonesia's deadly volcano appeared to be intensifying Friday, as clouds of searing gas and ash cascaded down the mountain, torching slope-side homes and triggering a chaotic midnight evacuation.
A rescue worker told TVOne that at least one man was killed in the latest blast and footage showed more than a dozen injured being carried into a hospital on stretchers.
It was not immediately clear why Bronggang, a village 9 miles (15 kilometers) from the crater and home to around 80 families — had not been evacuated. Witness told the station more victims were waiting for help.
Mount Merapi, which means "Fire Mountain," is one of the world's most active volcanoes.
But even those who have dedicated a lifetime to studying it have been baffled by its erratic behavior since its first Oct. 26 eruption, which has been followed by more than a dozen other powerful blasts and thousands of volcanic tremors.
They'd earlier hoped that would result in a long, slow release of energy.
"But we have no idea what to expect now," said Surono, a state expert on volcanos, adding that he has never seen the needle on Merapi's seismograph working with such intensity.
The fear is that a new lava dome forming in the mouth of the crater will collapse, triggering a deadly surge of up to 1,800 degree Fahrenheit (1,000 degree Celsius) ash and gas — known to experts as pyroclastic flows — at speeds of 60 miles per hour (100 kilometers per hour).
Though more than 75,000 people living along Merapi's fertile slopes have been evacuated to crowded emergency shelters far from the crater, some have refused to budge while others return to their villages during periods of calm to check on their livestock and homes.
Men with ash-covered faces streamed down the mountain on motorcycles Friday followed by truckloads of villagers, children crying as they clung to their mothers.
An explosion early Thursday fired white clouds a spectacular 20,000 feet (6,000 meters) into the sky. Gusts later carried the smoke westward, dusting roof tops, trees and laundry lines up to 150 miles away (250 kilometers) with thick white powder. Motorists in some cities switched on their headlights.
Activity at Merapi has at times briefly forced nearby airports to close and the Transportation Ministry reiterated Thursday that flight paths near the mountain had been shut down for safety reasons.
Officials insisted, however, that a Qantas jetliner forced to make an emergency landing after one of its four engines failed over Batam, an island 800 miles (1,400 kilometers) to the west, was unrelated.
"There was no connection with Mount Merapi," said Bambang Ervan, a spokesman for the Transportation Ministry. "It was too far from the volcano — the sky over Singapore and Sumatra island is free of dust."
Merapi has killed at least 45 people since Oct. 26 — with seven new deaths added to the toll in the last 24 hours.
In 1994, 60 people were killed, while in 1930, more than a dozen villages were torched, leaving up to 1,300 dead.
Mount Merapi's "danger zone" was widened for the second time in as many days Friday.
Subandrio, a state volcanologist, said people living in villages and emergency camps within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of the crater were told to clear out.
Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 235 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanos because it sits along the Pacific "Ring of Fire," a horseshoe-shaped string of faults that lines the Pacific.
The volcano's initial blast occurred less than 24 hours after a towering tsunami slammed into the remote Mentawai islands on the western end of the country, sweeping entire villages to sea and killing at least 428 people.
There, too, thousands of people were displaced, many living in government camps.
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