Toll from Indonesia volcanic eruptions rises to 135

Sunday, November 7, 2010

SLEMAN - The death toll from the eruptions of Indonesia’s Mount Merapi rose to 135 Sunday, as the burial of dozens of the victims was held.

Earlier rescue workers had battled hot ash from the volcano, about 500 km southeast of Jakarta, in the search for more victims of last week’s eruptions.

The National Disaster Management Agency raised the death toll after the latest round of volcanic activity, which started last month, to 135. More than 400 people were injured, according to the agency.

However, Andi Arief, a presidential aide in charge of disaster responses, put the death toll at 149.

“We’ve got this figure from the hospital,” he said.

He said the volcano had rumbled incessantly for more than 93 hours and warned that more than 200,000 people displaced by the disaster might have to stay in emergency shelters for months.

“I imagine it’s going to take a long time,” he said. “Destroyed homes will have to be rebuilt and communities rehabilitated.”

He said 2,000 soldiers and 2,000 police had been deployed to make sure people stay clear of the danger zone.

“Our priority is to prevent further loss of lives,” he said.

Dozens of people gathered in the Godean area of Sleman district Sunday to attend the burial of 78 people killed in Friday’s eruptions.

Yuwono, a 40-year-old paramedic, said he lost 11 relatives when searing volcanic ash rained down on their neighbourhood in Bronggang village early Friday.

“They stayed not because they were stubborn, but because they didn’t receive a warning to evacuate,” said Yuwono, adding that their village was outside the earlier exclusion zone.

Following Friday’s blasts, authorities expanded the danger zone 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.

Surono, chief of the Centre of Vulcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation, said the volcanic activity has been continuous since Wednesday, and the explosions from the crater intensified again Sunday.

Several international airlines cancelled flights to and from Jakarta because of safety concerns over volcanic ash.

AirAsia, Emirates, EvaAir, Philippines Airlines, Brunei Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines cancelled flights, officials from the capital’s international airport confirmed. They said the decision was up to the individual airlines. German airline Lufthansa also cancelled its Sunday flight.

“As of Sunday afternoon, we’ve recorded that 10 flights have been cancelled, far below the 45 cancelled flights Saturday,” said airport chief Frans Yosef.

Scientists said Friday’s eruption was Merapi’s most powerful in about 100 years. Jets of searing gas and ash burned homes, animals 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.

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