Panicked exodus as Indonesia volcano spews new ash
MOUNT MERAPI, Indonesia (AP) -- A deadly volcano in Indonesia spewed another searing cloud of ash down its slopes Sunday, prompting panic and chaos among thousands of villagers who had taken advantage of a lull in activity to rush home and check on their livestock.
The new blast came as rescuers hundreds of miles (kilometers) away finally were able to resume food deliveries and evacuate injured victims of a tsunami triggered by a 7.7-magnitude earthquake near a chain of remote islands off western Sumatra.
The number of people killed in the twin catastrophes climbed to almost 500 on Sunday.
Sirens blared, and people jumped into rivers trying to escape Mount Merapi's latest fury, while others sprinted down the mountain or sped off in cars and trucks, local disaster official Rusdiyanto said.
It wasn't clear if there were any new casualties Sunday, though an official said the ash cloud was not near populated areas. The volcano has killed 38 people since Tuesday.
The notoriously unpredictable mountain had been mostly quiet Sunday after letting out its most powerful eruption of the week the previous day.
Despite warnings from officials, thousands of the more than 53,000 people who had been evacuated from the danger zone rushed back Sunday morning to check on their livestock high up on the scorched slopes.
"My farm has been destroyed by volcanic debris and thick dust. ... All I have left now are my cows and goats," said Subarkah, who lives less than two miles (three kilometers) from the peak. "I have to find grass and bring it up to them, otherwise they'll die."
Since the eruptions began Tuesday, officials have struggled to keep villagers off the slopes of Merapi, which means Fire Mountain. More than 2,000 troops had to be called in Saturday to force men, women and children to leave.
The airport in Solo, 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of Merapi, was forced to close Sunday for at least an hour due to volcanic dust that fell like rain, said Bambang Ervan, a spokesman for the transportation ministry.
National airline Garuda Indonesia also rerouted flights from Yogyakarta because of concerns that volcanic dust from Merapi, 18 miles (30 kilometers) to the north, would damage plane engines, airline spokesman Pujobroto said.
The 46-minute eruption Sunday shot dust about a mile (two kilometers) into the air and a cloud of hot ash a half mile (a kilometer) down Merapi's eastern and southern slopes, said Surono, chief of the Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation.
"There should be no casualties from the new eruption because the flow of hot ash is lower and far from populated areas," Surono said.
He said heavy rain Sunday increased the danger of another larger eruption because water falling into the fiery crater can create sudden vapor pressure in the lava dome, he said.
In the last century, more than 1,400 have been killed by Merapi, one of the world's most active volcanos.
Since Saturday's large eruption, the volcano has had 63 lava bursts and nine small gas emissions, said Subandrio, an official with the volcano's monitoring agency.
"The trend seems to be that the volcanic activity is increasing," he said.
More than 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) to the west, a break in stormy weather made it possible for boats and helicopters to ferry aid to the most distant corners of the Mentawai Islands, where some coastal communities were pounded by a tsunami up to 18 feet (six meters) high last Monday.
A military helicopter evacuated badly injured survivors who had languished in an overwhelmed hospital with only Tylenol to ease their pain, said Ade Edward, a disaster management official. Among those evacuated was a baby girl born in a shelter after the tsunami and a 12-year-old girl with a life-threatening chest wound.
A C-130 transport plane, six helicopters and four motorized longboats were ferrying food and emergency supplies Sunday, he said.
Relief efforts were brought to a complete stop Saturday by stormy weather and rough seas.
"We're really glad to finally see the relief workers, doctors and rescue teams able to reach devastated areas," Edward said, adding that two navy ships arrived Sunday with many more police and soldiers deployed to speed up relief efforts.
The tsunami death toll climbed to 449 on Sunday with the discovery of dozens more bodies, said Nelis Zuliastri from the National Disaster Management Agency.
Indonesia, a vast island nation of 235 million people, straddles a series of fault lines and volcanoes known as the Pacific "Ring of Fire" and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
The fault that ruptured Monday, running the length of the west coast of Sumatra island, also caused the 9.1-magnitude quake that unleashed a monster tsunami around the Indian Ocean in 2004, killing 230,000 people in a dozen countries.
Associated Press writers Achmad Ibrahim and Kristen Gelineau in the Mentawai islands and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta contributed to this report.