Airlines cancel flights as volcano agony continues
International airlines cancelled flights into Indonesia's capital of Jakarta yesterday after a volcano to the west of the city unleashed its most powerful eruption in a century, incinerating villagers as they fled a searing gas cloud.
The number of people killed by Mount Merapi in the last two weeks climbed to 138, as a tiny hospital at the foot the mountain struggled to cope with survivors, some with burns on up to 95 per cent of their bodies.
The only sign of life in one man, whose eyes were milky gray in colour and never blinked, was the shallow rising and falling of his chest. Others, lungs choked with abrasive ash, struggled to breathe.
Indonesia's most volatile mountain unleashed a surge of searing gas, rocks and debris on Friday that raced down its slopes at highway speeds, mowing down the slope-side village of Bronggang and leaving a trail of charred corpses in its path.
It continued to rumble yesterday, at times spitting ash up to eight kilometres in the air, dusting windshields, rooftops and leaves on trees hundreds of kilometres to the west.
Just days before US President Barack Obama's visit to Indonesia, international carriers cancelled flights to Jakarta over concerns about the volcano, 450 kilometres away.
Among the carriers temporarily suspending flights were Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia. Domestic flights were unaffected.
The Indonesian government, meanwhile, has expanded a "danger zone" to a ring 20 kilometres from the peak, bringing it to the edge of the ancient royal capital of Yogyakarta, which has been put on its highest alert.
The biggest threat is the Code River, which flows into the city of 400,000 from the 3,000-meter mountain and could act as a conduit for deadly volcanic mudflows that form in heavy rains.
Racing at speeds of 100kph, the molten lava, rocks and other debris can destroy everything in their path.
People living near the river's banks have been advised to stay away.
Sigit Priohutomo, a senior hospital official, said the mountain has killed 138 in the last two weeks, with at least 94 dying on Friday.