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Indonesian volcano claims another 49 lives

05 listopada, 2010

At least 49 people were killed and scores injured Friday when Indonesia\'s Mount Merapi volcano erupted again, incinerating villages as far as 18 kilometres (11 miles) away, officials said.

The latest deaths bring the total toll to more than 90 since the country\'s most active volcano started erupting on October 26.

"Up to 49 people were killed and 66 people are being treated for burn injuries," said Banu Hermawan, a spokesman for Sarjito general hospital in Yogyakarta, south of the volcano.

Many of the dead were children from Argomulyo village, 18 kilometres from the crater of the volcano, according to an AFP reporter at the scene and emergency response officials.

"Argomulyo village has been burned down to the ground by the heat clouds. Many children have died there. When I was in the village the ground was still hot," Yogyakarta police force medic Teguh Dwi Santosa told AFP.

A river running through the village overflowed with a thick mixture of mud and ash, and several bodies lay unclaimed in the debris, witnesses said.

Ash, deadly heat clouds and molten debris gushed from the mouth of the 2,914-metre (9,616-foot) mountain and shot high into the sky for most of the night and into the morning.

There was panic and chaos on the roads as people tried to flee in the darkness, rescue workers said.

The ranks of evacuees swelled past 100,000 people, with 30,000 moved into a sports stadium about 25 kilometres away from the peak.

"The emergency shelters are now overcrowded," emergency response field coordinator Widi Sutikno said.

The international airport at Yogyakarta was closed as ash clouds billowed to the altitude of cruising jetliners and the runway was covered in gray soot, officials said.

Government volcanologist Surono said Friday\'s blasts were the largest yet.

"This is the biggest eruption so far. The heat clouds went down the slopes as far as 13 kilometres and the explosion was heard as far as 20 kilometres away," he said.

The exclusion zone was widened from 15 to 20 kilometres around the mountain and everyone living in the area was ordered to evacuate their homes and shelters immediately, he said.

Indonesia\'s transport ministry has told pilots to stay at least 12 kilometres away from the rumbling volcano and several flights linking central Java to Singapore and Malaysia have been cancelled this week.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited people displaced by the volcano on Wednesday as the disaster-prone country struggles to cope with dual natural disasters following a tsunami off Sumatra on October 25.

The three-metre wave smashed into villages on the remote Mentawai island chain following a 7.7-magnitude earthquake off the coast, killing 428 people and leaving 15,000 homeless.

Another 74 people remain missing, feared dead.

Bad weather and poor communications on the undeveloped islands -- a legendary destination for foreign surfers -- have hampered efforts to bring food, shelter and medicine to the affected areas.

"We have to use rubber boats to reach isolated villages. We even have to swim to bring the boat over coral reefs," Indonesian Red Cross spokeswoman Fitriana Sidika said Wednesday.

Three New Zealand yachtsmen who had not been heard from since the tsunami turned up safe and sound, their families said Friday.

The Indonesian archipelago has dozens of active volcanoes and straddles major tectonic fault lines from the Indian to the Pacific oceans. The 2004 Asian tsunami killed almost 170,000 people in Indonesia alone.