Baby among 18 people killed as volcano erupts
INDONESIA'S most volatile volcano erupted yesterday, after scientists had warned that pressure building beneath its dome could trigger the most powerful explosion in years.
At least 18 people were killed, including a two-month-old baby, according to doctors and media reports.
Smoke poured out of Mount Merapi, obscuring its cone, according to footage from the private station, Metro TV. Police and volunteers were shown carrying ash-covered corpses, some wrapped in blankets and yellow body bags, to waiting vehicles.
Thousands of villagers started streaming off the 9,737ft (2,968 metre) mountain as darkness fell, crowding into makeshift emergency shelters.
Earlier, many had refused to budge, saying they wanted to tend to crops along the volcano's fertile slopes and protect their homes against looters.
While there are fears that the current activity could foreshadow a more destructive explosion in the coming weeks or months, Gede Swantika, a government vulcanologist, said the mountain appeared to be releasing some pressure building up beneath the lava dome.
"It's too early to know for sure," he said, adding: "But if it continues like this for a while, we are looking at a slow, long eruption."
As they contended with the volcano, Indonesian officials were also trying to assess the impact of Monday's 7.7-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, about 800 miles (1,300km) from Merapi. The temblor caused a tsunami that left hundreds dead or missing on a string of remote islands.
Subandriyo, the chief vulcanologist monitoring Merapi, said the eruption began just before dusk yesterday. A 15-minute thunderous rumble was followed by a huge burst of searing ash. Rocks and debris cascaded down the side of Merapi, which literally means Mountain of Fire.
Officials earlier said, by closely monitoring the volcano -- which lies on the main island of Java, some 310 miles (500km) southeast of the capital Jakarta -- they hoped to avoid casualties.
But the death toll was quickly climbing. An infant died when a mother ran in panic after the eruption started, said a hospital worker.
Three people at Panti Nugroho hospital succumbed to bad burns after being hit by a searing cloud of ash, said a hospital spokesman. News portal Detik.com reported that 14 other bodies were found in a mountainside village.
There are more than 129 active volcanoes to watch in Indonesia, which is spread across 17,500 islands, but Merapi has long been considered one of the most volatile.
In 2006, an avalanche of blistering gases and rock fragments killed two people.
This vast archipelago is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity due to its location on the Pacific Ring of Fire -- a series of fault lines stretching from the Western Hemisphere through Japan and Southeast Asia.