Airlines stop Jakarta flights after volcano blast

Indonesia`s most volatile mountain unleashed surge of searing gas on Friday.

Mount Merapi: The tiny hospital at the foot of Mount Merapi struggled on Saturday to cope with its victims after the volcano unleashed its most powerful eruption in a century, as international airlines cancelled flights into the Indonesian capital hundreds of miles away.

The only sign of life in one man, who`s eyes were milky gray in colour and never blinked, was the shallow rising and falling of his chest. Others, their lungs choked with abrasive volcanic ash, struggled to breathe.

Indonesia`s most volatile mountain unleashed a surge of searing gas, rocks and debris on Friday that raced down its slopes at highway speeds, torching houses and trees and incinerating villagers caught in its path.

It continued to rumble and groan no Saturday, at times spitting gray clouds of ash and gas up to five miles (eight kilometres) into the air, dusting windshields, rooftops and leaves on trees hundreds of miles (kilometres) away on Saturday.

Several international carriers for the first time temporarily cancelled flights to the capital Jakarta — 280 miles (450 kilometres) west of Merapi — over concerns volcanic ash in the air could cause damage to their aircraft and engines, jeopardising safety.

Among them were Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa and Malaysia Airlines.

With more than 90 people killed, many of them after succumbing to their injuries, Friday was Merapi`s deadliest day in decades, but Sigit Priohutomo, who works at Sardjito hospital, predicted the toll would rise.

With a nearby airport closed because of poor visibility, ventilators needed for burn victims were stuck in Jakarta, and were being delivered instead by road, he said. In meantime, nursing students were using emergency respirators pumped by hand.

The volcano, in the heart of densely populated Java island, has erupted many times in the last two centuries, but many people choose to live on its rolling slopes, drawn to soil made fertile by molten lava and volcanic debris.

In recent days, however, more than 200,000 people have crammed into emergency shelters in the shadows of the volcano, which showed no signs of tiring.

"It`s scary. ... The eruption just keeps going on," said Wajiman, 58, who was sitting in a shelter near a girl reading a newspaper headlined "Merapi isn`t finished yet."

Packed together on muddy floors, flies landing on the faces of sleeping refugees, many complained of poor sanitation, saying there were not enough toilets or clean drinking water.

The village hardest hit on Friday, Bronggang, was nine miles (15 kilometres) from the glowing crater, still within the perimeter of the government-delineated "safe zone”.

The zone has since been expanded to a ring 12 miles (20 kilometres) from the peak, bringing it to the edge of the ancient royal capital of Yogyakarta, which has been put on its highest alert.

The biggest threat is the Code River, which flows into the city of 400,000 from the 9,700-foot (3,000-meter) mountain and could act as conduit for deadly volcanic mudflows that form in heavy rains.

Racing at speeds of 60 mph (100 kph), the molten lava, rocks and other debris, can destroy everything in their path.

People living near the river`s banks have been advised to stay away.

Several were seen packing up on Saturday, as Yogyakarta was pounded by rain, and later a light sprinkle, turning the dust covering streets, cars and rooftops into a wet, dark sludge.

Merapi`s latest round of eruptions began on October 26, followed by more than a dozen other powerful blasts and thousands of tremors.

Bureau Report

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