Tue, Nov 09, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Merapi roars and frightened residents flee

GREAT ESCAPE:There have been no orders to evacuate Yogyakarta, but many residents have decided to go on their own, leaving small hamlets looking like ghost towns


ndonesian Army special forces wearing masks prepare to evacuate the victims of the Mount Merapi eruption at Pejambon in Sleman, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Frightened residents fled a bustling city of 400,000 at the foot of Indonesia’s rumbling volcano yesterday, cramming onto trains, buses and rented vehicles as authorities warned Mount Merapi could erupt again at any time.

A mass burial late on Sunday for many of the 141 people killed in the last two weeks served as a reminder of the mountain’s devastating power that culminated in its deadliest blast in 80 years that sent hot clouds of gas, rocks and debris avalanching down its slopes.

“My parents have been calling ... saying: ‘You have to get out of there. You have to come home,’” said Linda Ervana, a 21-year-old history student who was waiting with friends at a train station in the university town of Yogyakarta, 30km away.

After failing to get tickets, they rented a minibus with other classmates.

“It feels like that movie 2012,” said her 22-year-old friend, Paulina Setin. “Like a disaster in a movie.”

Concerns about airborne ash after Friday’s massive eruption prompted many international airlines to cancel flights to the capital, Jakarta, just days before US President Barack Obama’s planned trip to Indonesia — his second stop on a 10-day Asian tour.

All were flying again yesterday and White House officials said Obama was still scheduled to touch down today.

Merapi, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, has erupted many times in the last century, killing more than 1,400, but Friday was the mountain’s deadliest day since 1930, with nearly 100 lives lost.

Islam mandates that the dead be buried quickly, so authorities gave relatives three days to identify their loved ones. To speed up the process, most families chose to have their relatives interred in a mass grave — a common practice in Indonesia following a disaster.

One by one the bodies — some too charred to be identified — were lowered into a massive trench in the shadow of the volcano.

Merapi was still issuing explosive roars yesterday as it shot clouds of gas and debris up to 1km in the air as ash and pyroclastic flows poured down its slopes.

“Based on what we’re seeing now, it could erupt again any time,” said Surono, a state volcanologist.

The National Disaster Management Agency said the overall death toll from the volcano climbed from 138 to 141 yesterday after search and rescue teams found more bodies on the mountain.

The Indonesian government has put Yogyakarta on high alert.

The city’s airport was closed yet again yesterday and the ash hung so thickly in the air that breathing became painful and clothes stunk of smoke after any time spent outdoors.

Though there have been no orders to evacuate Yogyakarta, many residents have decided to go on their own.

Small hamlets on the edge of the city looked like ghost towns, houses shuttered, some with laundry still hanging outside.

“What choice do we have?” asked Sukirno, 37, as he sped away with his wife and their eight-year-old daughter on a motorbike, saying they would join relatives far away over fears of the effect of the ash on their health.

The biggest threat to the city, experts say, is not searing gas clouds, but the Code River, which flows right into the city’s heart from the 3,000m mountain.

It could act as a conduit for deadly volcanic mudflows that form in heavy rains, racing at speeds of up to 100kph and destroying everything in their path. A thick, black volcanic sludge has already inundated one city neighborhood that starts at the river bank and climbs a hillside.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top