Indonesian volcano death toll jumps to 191
Jakarta (AFP) Nov 10, 2010
The death toll from the eruption of Indonesia's most active volcano jumped to 191 on Wednesday as more bodies were pulled from ruined villages, while ash continued to disrupt air traffic.
Mount Merapi, which means "Mountain of Fire", has been spewing ash and heat clouds since late October, incinerating entire settlements and forcing 340,000 people to flee to makeshift camps.
"The death toll from Merapi has reached 191," a disaster management official, who refused to give his name, told AFP.
He said the sharp increase in the death toll from 151 was probably due to rescuers recovering more bodies in the central Java area where the volcano is located.
Fast-flowing torrents of boiling hot gas and rock incinerated villages on Friday, killing people as they slept and leaving rescuers to pull bodies from ruined buildings.
Government volcanologist Surono said Merapi had twice shot ash high into the air on Wednesday and the area was still unsafe.
"The intensity of the eruption has decreased but the volcano's activity is still high and it still emits heat clouds," Surono told AFP.
"The volcano is still on alert status and it's not conducive for people to go home yet."
Surono said Merapi belched more heat clouds -- deadly waves of searing gas that can kill in an instant -- at 5:30 am (2230 GMT Tuesday) and they could have surged four kilometres from the crater.
The government announced a 20-kilometre "danger zone" from the top of the volcano on Friday, saying residents within the area should be evacuated.
Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific, Australia's Qantas and Malaysia Airlines all cancelled flights because of the ash.
The ash caused major disruptions to flights in and out of Indonesia at the weekend and forced US President Barack Obama to cut short his trip to the sprawling archipelago on Wednesday.
Austrian President Heinz Fischer also had to end a state visit a day earlier than expected on the orders of his pilots, diplomats said.
Cathay said it had cancelled flights to and from Jakarta on Wednesday and Thursday, while Qantas cancelled a Sydney-Jakarta service on Wednesday.
"Cathay Pacific will monitor and assess the situation and the possibility of operating flights," the airline said on its website Wednesday.
Jetstar, the low-cost offshoot of Qantas, has also changed its flight schedule for services to the Indonesian island of Bali, cancelling flights that arrive at or depart from the popular holiday destination at night.
Malaysia Airlines said its evening and night flights to Jakarta, as well as one to Kuala Lumpur from the Indonesian capital, were cancelled because of the ash.
Officials said safety worries about the ash also meant Yogyakarta airport -- the city lies around 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the volcano -- would stay closed until Monday next week at the earliest.
"We may prolong the closing of the airport if Merapi is still erupting," Transport Ministry director general for aviation Herry Bhakti said.
Obama pledged US support for Indonesia in dealing with the aftermath of the eruption, the biggest at Mount Merapi since the 1870s.
"As always, the United States stands with Indonesia in responding to this natural disaster, and we are pleased to be able to help as needed," the president said in a speech in Jakarta.
"As neighbours help neighbours and families take in the displaced, I know that the strength and resilience of the Indonesian people will pull you through once more."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said forecasts for the ash meant Obama had to leave early from Jakarta, although the capital is more than 400 kilometres west of the volcano.
The air in Jakarta was smoggy on Wednesday but there were no obvious signs of volcanic ash falling on the city.
The Indonesian archipelago has dozens of active volcanoes and straddles major tectonic fault lines known as "ring of fire" between the Pacific and Indian oceans.
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