New eruption halts search, flights cancelled in Indonesia

Sunday, November 7, 2010

JAKARTA - Eruptions from Merapi volcano sent clouds of ash and smoke up to 6,000 metres high Sunday, forcing rescue workers to halt searches in the danger zone and prompting many international airlines to cancel flights to and from Jakarta.

Air Asia, Emirates, EvaAir, Philippines Airlines, Brunei Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines cancelled flights, officials of the city’s international airport confirmed.

They said the decision on flights was up to the individual airlines. German airline Lufthansa also cancelled its Sunday flight.

Earlier Sunday, rescue workers were battling hot ash from Mount Merapi, about 500 km southeast of Jakarta, in the search for more victims of last week’s eruptions.

An official at Sardjito General Hospital in the nearby city of Yogyakarta said 88 bodies and more than 130 wounded people were brought in after a major eruption Friday.

The National Disaster Management Agency put the total death toll at 116 since Oct 26, with at least 485 people injured.

“The death toll is feared to rise because there are still some areas could not be reached due to the hot ash,” spokesman Agam Verdatama said.

The agency said more than 200,000 people were evacuated after the danger zone was expanded Friday from a radius of 15 km to 20 km around the cone. An estimated 250,000 people live within the zone in central Java.

Local media said more than 200 people had reported relatives missing on the slopes of the volcano.

Before Friday’s eruption, many villagers had refused to leave their homes, fearing for the security of their livestock and other property.

Surono, chief of the Vulcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Agency, said the volcanic activity was continuous since Wednesday, and the intensity of the explosions from the crater had intensified again Sunday.

“As of early Sunday, thunderous roars were heard and the eruptions continue,” state-run Antara news agency quoted him as saying.

“The most important thing now is that residents should be outside a radius of 20 km. We’re appealing the evacuees to be patient and remained in the camp.”

Scientists said Friday’s eruption was Merapi’s most powerful in about 100 years. Jets of searing gas and ash burned homes and vegetation, destroying as many as 26 hamlets.

The 2,968-metre peak’s deadliest eruption on record occurred in 1930 when 1,370 people were killed. At least 66 people were killed in a 1994 eruption, and two people were killed in 2006, the latest eruption before it rumbled back to life last month.

Indonesia has about 500 volcanoes, nearly 130 of them active and 68 classified as dangerous.

Filed under: Accidents and Disasters

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