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Gas clouds shoot down Mount Merapi volcano YOGYAKARTA - Clouds of deadly ash, rock fragments and hot gas surged down Mount Merapi's slopes Monday as activity intensified to the highest level since the volcano rumbled back to life weeks ago. One eruption sent an avalanche of debris and ash rolling more than 2 miles down the mountain's western flank, said Ratdomopurbo, the region's chief vulcanologist. It was followed by several other huge explosions.

Many people who earlier had refused to leave the danger zone fled in public minivans or trucks. Villages near the peak resembled ghost towns, with only a few men to be seen. Houses, some dusted with ash, were deserted and shops closed. "I am panicking this time," said Katimi, a mother of three who had taken refuge in a mosque serving as an evacuation point. "Merapi appears angry."

Scientists raised the alert status for Merapi on Saturday to the highest level after weeks of volcanic activity, and by Sunday authorities had evacuated more than 4,500 people living in villages closest to the crater or next to rivers that could provide paths for hot lava. They are now living in mosques, government buildings and schools. Some 18,000 others who live lower down the slopes of the 9,800-foot mountain were not considered to be in immediate danger as of late Sunday. The mountain rises from the plains of Indonesia's densely populated Java Island.

Police - who said there were no reports of damage or injuries - toured the danger zone on Monday, urging the last holdouts to leave. But scores refused, saying they wanted to protect their land or livestock. "I am calm because I have experienced this many times before," said Romadi, a 60-year-old villager whose house was covered in volcanic ash Monday. "Officials have told us to leave, but I know that it is not that dangerous."

The deadly clouds of ash, gas and debris, known to volcanologists as pyroclastic flows, are the biggest worry for emergency services, said Sugiono, one of the scientists on a team monitoring the volcano 24 hours a day. He said a glowing dome of lava being formed by magma forced to the surface was about to collapse and could cause a surge in the clouds.

Locals call the clouds "shaggy sheep clouds" because they resemble tightly curled balls of wool as they avalanche down the mountain at speeds of more than 60 miles an hour. "If you get stuck in them, then you have no chance," Sugiono said.

In one of the villages in the shadow of Merapi, holy men and hundreds of people lit incense and set rice, fruit and vegetables floating down a river in a ceremony they believed would appease the spirits and prevent an eruption. "It's bound to help," Parsi, a villager who like many Indonesians using only one name, said after the ceremony. "Everyone around here believes in this. It is in our blood."

Although most Indonesians are Muslim, many also follow animist beliefs and worship ancient spirits, especially in central Java province. Often at full moons, they trek to crater rims and throw in rice, jewelry and live animals to appease the volcano. "All the things we are doing here are to try to make us safe," said Assize Ashore, an Islamic preacher who also took part in the ceremony. "Only Allah knows if Merapi will explode."

Some Javanese also believe increased activity at Merapi is a sign of impending political upheaval. Merapi erupted in 1965 - a year before an aborted coup that ushered in Indonesia's long-ruling dictator Suharto - and activity also increased ahead of the 1997 Asian economic crisis.

15 May 2006: The Merapi volcano releases a huge cloud of hot gas as seen from the Kali Adem village, near central the Javanese city of Yogyakarta.
15 May 2006: The Merapi volcano releases a huge cloud of hot gas as seen from the Kali Adem village, near the central Javanese city of Yogyakarta.



Link to related event Related event:
Eruptive Mount Merapi

Related blog entries (category 'Volcanoes') Related blog entries (category 'Volcanoes'):
15 May 2006 · Mount Merapi volcano explodes with gas, ash
14 May 2006 · Villagers return to slopes of Merapi despite threat
13 May 2006 · Indonesia local tests show 5 positive on bird flu
13 May 2006 · Merapi Volcano alert prompts mandatory evacuations
12 May 2006 · Volcano chasers move in as locals flee rumbling Merapi
11 May 2006 · Evacuation as Mt. Merapi volcano spews molten lava
08 May 2006 · Molten lava continue flows from Mount Merapi


Posted in Volcanoes @ 15 May 2006 12:49 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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