Death Toll from Indonesian Volcano Eruption Passes 240

By Slamet Riyadi | November 15, 2010

Mount Merapi, Indonesia’s most volatile volcano, unleashed another cloud of searing gas as rescuers pulled more bodies from a village smothered a week ago by eruptions. The death toll from a series of blasts passed 240 on Sunday.

Saturday’s blast followed a similar one the day before. No new deaths have been reported from the latest flows, which were well within the zone that has been evacuated.

The mountain has continuously spewed ash – and occasionally torrents of rock, gas and lava in dramatic eruptions – since it roared to life Oct. 26 after years of dormancy. But several days of reduced activity have prompted scientists to warn that the volcano remains dangerous and they are still registering tremors around it.

The latest blasts confirmed that view. Lesto Kuswanto, an officer at a monitoring post on the mountain, said a hot cloud slid as far as two miles (three kilometers) from the crater on Saturday.

Scientists from Japan, the U.S. and France are traveling to Indonesia to study the data from Merapi and share their experience as experts struggle to figure out what the volcano will do next, according to Surono, the chief state volcanologist.

Merapi is the most active in Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 235 million people that is prone to seismic activity because it sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped string of faults that lines the Pacific Ocean.

The National Disaster Management Agency reported Sunday on its website that the toll from more than two weeks of eruptions had climbed to 242 from 206.

That figure has steadily risen as people with severe burns die from their wounds and officials count those who have died from respiratory problems, heart attacks and other illnesses related to the blasts.

In addition, search operations continue for bodies buried under a thick layer of ash that shrouds whole villages. On Friday, soldiers pulled eight more bodies from around one hard-hit village, said Waluyo Rahardjo, who works for the search and rescue agency.

On Saturday, the disaster agency also raised the death toll from last month’s devastating tsunami to 461. Just one day before Merapi reawakened, a powerful earthquake triggered waves up to 18 feet (six meters) high near the remote Mantawai islands, off the coast of the western island of Sumatra. The tsunami destroyed hundreds of homes, schools, churches and mosques.

Associated Press writer Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta contributed to this report.

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