Fri, Jun 09, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Mount Merapi spews lava and gas in large eruption


Indonesia's Mount Merapi hurled lava and gas clouds down its slopes yesterday in the volcano's largest eruption since it began heating up two months ago, officials and local media reports said.

The eruption occurred at about 9:05am, reaching a record distance of 5km in the direction of the Gendol River, burning down part of the Kaliadem forest area in the district of Sleman, the state-run news agency, Antara, reported.

Local residents normally graze their livestock each morning near the forest area that was burned, but no casualties were reported.

"It was the biggest [eruption] so far," said Heri, a volcanologist from the nearby monitoring center. "But it's difficult to predict whether Merapi will have a major eruption in the near future."

Thousands of residents living around Mount Merapi continued to be evacuated this week with the volcano's latest signs that an eruption was imminent.

Some 3,000 residents were being evacuated from Magelang district on Wednesday, bringing the number of total evacuees to at least 11,000, most of whom were being moved for the second time after fleeing weeks ago before the volcano first erupted.

The fact that the volcano's activity fluctuates so rapidly has frustrated villagers, many of whom have either refused to leave or returned to their homes after the first large-scale eruption last month.

While authorities were stepping up evacuation efforts in some areas this week, residents from other areas were returning to their homes on the slopes of the volcano, despite warnings from scientists that the threat of a major eruption remains high.

Mount Merapi, which translates as "Mountain of Fire," sits about 45km north of Yogyakarta, a Javanese cultural city that was devastated by last week's quake, which left more than 5,700 people dead and at least 36,000 others wounded.

The volcano's most deadly eruption took place in 1930 when 1,370 people were killed. At least 66 people were killed in the 1994 eruption, mostly by the outpouring of superheated hot ash and other volcanic materials.

Indonesia has the world's highest density of volcanos, with 500 located in the so-called "Ring of Fire," in the 5,000km-wide archipelago nation. Of these, 128 are active.

Authorities said that another major eruption would severely strain ongoing earthquake relief operations in nearby Bantul and Klaten districts. More than a half-million people were displaced in last month's temblor, many living in makeshift shelters with no toilets or running water. Paramedics now deployed in the quake-zone are already stretch thin.

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