Death toll from Indonesian volcano nears 100

Blistering gas from Indonesia`s most volatile volcano spewed farther than expected.

Last Updated: Nov 05, 2010, 13:52 PM IST

Mount Merapi: Blistering gas from Indonesia`s most volatile volcano spewed farther than expected Friday, incinerating houses at the edge of the danger zone, triggering chaotic evacuations and pushing the death toll in more than a week to nearly 100.

Soldiers joined rescue operations in Bronggang, 15 kilometers from the mouth of the crater, pulling charred corpses from smoldering homes and then lifting them into the backs of trucks caked in gray dust.

Dozens of injured, most was severe burns, were carried away on stretchers.

"We`re totally overwhelmed here!" said Heru Nogroho, a spokesman at the Sardjito hospital, as the number of bodies dropped off at their morgue climbed to 54 - the deadliest day Mount Merapi has seen in 80 years.

More than 70 others were injured, many critically, with severe burns.

Merapi`s booming explosion just after midnight triggered a panicked evacuation. Men with ash-covered faces streamed down the scorched slopes on motorcycles, followed by truckloads of women and children, many crying.

Officials barked out orders on bullhorns as rocks and debris rained from the sky.

Up until today the village of Bronggang, home to around 80 families, was considered to be within the safety zone.

Mount Merapi, which means "Fire Mountain," has erupted many times in the last century, often with deadly results. In 1994, over a period of several days, 60 people were killed, while in 1930, more than a dozen villages were torched, leaving up to 1,300 dead.

The greatest danger is always pyroclastic flows, like those that roared down the southern slopes today.

Such clouds can reach temperatures of up to 750 degree Celsius, while racing down the slopes at speeds of up to 100 kilometers per hour.

Cities and towns more than 120 kilometers were dusted.

Activity at the mountain forced an airport in nearby Yogyakarta to close today because runways were covered in heavy white ash. It was not clear when it would reopen, said Agus Andriyanto, who oversees operations.

Subandrio, a state volcanologist, meanwhile, said Mount Merapi`s "danger zone" was extended by five kilometers to 20kilometers from the crater`s smoldering mouth after the new eruption.

Even scientists from Merapi`s monitoring station were told they had to pack up and move down the mountain.

PTI