Purwobinangun, Indonesia (AFP) Nov 3, 2010
Indonesia's Mount Merapi volcano exploded in a frightening new eruption of lava and red-hot rocks on Wednesday, sparking panic and forcing the government to order new evacuations.
Scientists said the 2,914-metre (9,616-foot) mountain in central Java erupted with more force than last week's blasts that killed 36 people, spewing huge clouds of searing gas into the sky.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had visited some of the 75,000 evacuees in shelters near the fuming peak earlier Wednesday, but it was not clear if he was still in the area when the latest full-scale eruption began.
Witnesses said a huge grey cloud of ash and hot gas shot high above the mountain and tumbled down its slopes in a deadly avalanche.
Locals who have grown used to seeing the volcano belch gas and ash over the past eight days jumped on motorcycles and fled for their lives.
"Hundreds of people fled in panic from the refugee shelter in Glagaharjo, 10 kilometres from the peak," relief worker Anwar told AFP.
"There was extraordinary chaos and panic. The refugees cried and screamed hysterically, and some fainted."
Witnesses said two huge explosions shook the surrounding countryside.
"They were the biggest heat clouds I've seen since I was posted here last week," relief worker Sulih Putra said.
"I was actually panicking but I tried not to be because I didn't want the refugees to panic too."
Government volcanologist Surono said: "It's the biggest eruption and it's been happening for almost two hours, since 2:27 pm (0727 GMT)."
"This is the most extraordinary, the biggest," he added, referring to eruptions on October 26 and 30.
Officials expanded the danger zone around Mount Merapi and ordered people living closer than 15 kilometres (10 miles) to evacuate, while some international flights to and from the area have been cancelled.
"We've decided to widen the danger zone to 15 kilometres, the refugee camps must be moved outside the zone," Surono said.
The previous exclusion zone radiated 10 kilometres from the volcano. Around 75,000 people have evacuated the area since last Tuesday, when Merapi started its latest series of eruptions.
Heat clouds seethed from the crater early Wednesday morning as Yudhoyono visited refugees and repeated scientists' warnings that further eruptions were likely over the coming weeks.
"There will be more eruptions from Merapi, albeit small ones. If the conditions are safe you will be able to return to your homes," he told residents of one temporary shelter in Sleman district, near Yogyakarta.
He asked evacuees to be patient and promised government assistance to rebuild their communities once the all-clear is given for their return.
Evacuees said they were bored in the shelters and expressed concern for their livestock on the mountain's slopes, which represent the life savings of many of the region's poor farmers.
"My cows are still in my village so I have no option but to occasionally return. There should be a shelter for cows here in the safe area so people don't have to go back," herdsman Basuki, 39, said.
National flag carrier Garuda Indonesia said about 8,000 people scheduled to depart from Solo airport to Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj pilgrimage now had to leave from Surabaya due to the volcanic activity.
The disaster-prone Indonesian archipelago has dozens of active volcanoes and straddles major tectonic fault lines from the Indian to the Pacific oceans.
In the Mentawai island chain 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) to the west of Mount Merapi, more than 400 people were killed when a tsunami triggered by a 7.7-magnitude earthquake slammed into coastal villages on October 25.
About 15,000 people were made homeless in that disaster, which scientists said was directly related to the 2004 Asian tsunami, also created by an earthquake off the Sumatran coast.
Officials said bad weather was hampering operations to bring aid supplies to the isolated islands.
"More than 10 ships and helicopters from the military and the police have been dispatched but the bad weather has prevented them from regularly distributing food and medical supplies," a disaster response official said.
Meanwhile concerns were raised for three New Zealand yachtsmen who have not been heard from since the tsunami. They were believed to be sailing towards the Mentawais on the night the three-metre wave struck.
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Indonesian warns volcano 'could erupt for months'
Hargobinangun, Indonesia (AFP) Nov 2, 2010
Indonesia warned Tuesday its most active volcano could continue erupting for months as 50,000 remained in temporary shelters and airlines cancelled flights over the disaster-hit nation. Searing grey fumes shot high into the sky and rolled down the slopes of the 2,914-metre (9616-foot) Mount Merapi six times after dawn, spreading fear and panic as the government issued an alert telling airlin ... read more
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