Terrified villagers flee new volcano eruption
Hundreds of terrified villagers fled by motorbike and car as gigantic booms rang out from the crater of Indonesia's Merapi volcano yesterday.
Ash rained down like snow on paddy fields, jungle and the city of Yogyakarta 12 miles away, as fears grew that the activity of the past 10 days could be the prelude to a devastating eruption in the heart of Java -- Indonesia's most heavily populated island.
The new eruption early yesterday caused panic days after 35 people died on the slopes of the volcano, some burned to death by hot clouds of ash and gas which raced down Merapi's steep slopes incinerating forests and settlements in their way. Roads leading to safety were clogged with panic-stricken refugees, many of them coated with grey ash, and streets were chaotic in Yogyakarta. Pedestrians were forced to wear masks against the choking ash.
Volcanologists who have been monitoring the eruption believe there is no immediate threat to the city's 400,000 inhabitants. Many villagers refused to leave their homes, partly out of fear of looters but also because they needed to tend animals that they rely on for a livelihood.
Indonesian television showed pictures of a woman who had refused to obey evacuation orders being pinned to a stretcher by soldiers as she screamed and cried in protest.
Troops stood guard in front of homes to reassure villagers their property would be safe, but many of them also fled.
More than 50,000 people from an evacuation zone on the slopes of the volcano have moved to government camps in Yogyakarta or were staying with relatives.
Subandrio, a government volcanologist who has only one name like many Indonesians, warned yesterday that the exclusion zone should be widened because the worst may be yet to come.
"We think there will be other explosive eruptions because we discovered a lot of magma on Merapi's crater," he said. "We should not downplay the threat -- Mount Merapi is extremely dangerous."