More bodies found near erupting Indonesian volcano

Monday, November 8, 2010

SLEMAN - Rescue workers found six more bodies on the slopes of Indonesia’s Merapi Volcano Monday, bringing the death toll to 141.

Teams of soldiers, police and volunteers battled hot ash and other volcanic debris as they combed through villages searching for bodies and survivors from eruptions that began last month.

Rescue leader Suseno said six bodies were found and taken from the Glagaharjo hamlet of Sleman district, the most devastated zone.

“We suspect some of the dead are still buried under one or two metres of smouldering ash,” rescue worker Amtono Prasutanto said.

Soldiers evacuated three people who had remained in Sidorejo, a village blanketed by volcanic dust and burnt trees about 10 km from Merapi’s peak.

Among the three was an 80-year-old, blind and paralyzed woman who was left behind by her family. Her grandson Sumadi said he traveled back and forth on a motorcycle every day to give her food.

“We had to leave her behind because we preferred to evacuate other family members,” Sumadi told DPA. “Even if she had to be brought to the evacuation centre she would then only become a burden for many.

“I hope she can be taken to a nursing home because she is no longer able to do anything.”

Many villagers were seen riding motorcycles to their homes in the danger zone to retrieve belongings such as birdcages, mattresses and other items to use in the evacuation camps.

The official death toll since the eruptions began Oct 26 stood at 141. R Sukhyar, chief geologist at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, said it was impossible to predict when the volcano would stop erupting.

Sukhyar said Merapi had erupted continuously since Friday, when it experienced its most powerful explosion in about 100 years.

Yadi Bebe, a rescue worker with the local social affairs department, said four of his colleagues were killed in Friday’s eruption, and another perished Oct 26.

“They were helping evacuate villagers in Gelagiharjo village when hot clouds rained down on the area,” he said, sitting outside the forensic room at Sardjito hospital. “They were heroes.”

The bodies of two of them had not yet been identified, he said.

“There were several bodies in the forensic room but I couldn’t tell which theirs were,” he said.

Searing gas and ash have burned homes, animals and vegetation, injuring more than 400 people and destroying as many as 26 hamlets. More than 200,000 people displaced by the disaster may have to stay in emergency shelters for months.

Merapi’s eruptions also forced the closure of Borobudur, an ancient Buddhist temple and major tourist destination.

The 2,968-metre peak’s deadliest eruption on record occurred in 1930 when 1,370 people were killed. At least 66 people died 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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