ARGOMULYO, KOMPAS.com - Rescuers picked through the rubble of destroyed homes and treated panicked villagers for burns Saturday after Indonesia’s most active volcano killed 77 people in its biggest eruption in over a century. Ash, deadly heat clouds and molten debris gushed from the mouth of Mount Merapi and shot high into the sky Friday morning, triggering chaos on the roads as people fled their homes.
The latest deaths bring the overall toll to 120 since the volcano started erupting on Java island on October 26, a day after a tsunami killed more than 400 people in a remote area off Sumatra island to the west. The mountain spewed ash over a vast area including the Central Java provincial capital of Yogyakarta, about 28 kilometres (17 miles) to the south.
Many of the dead were from Argomulyo village, 18 kilometres from the crater, according to emergency response officials and witnesses, with several children under the age of 10 killed. There were at least 156 people injured in the latest eruption, the spokesman said, adding “most suffered burn injuries”.
Rescuer Utha told AFP as he delivered 10 bodies to the hospital: “I found three bodies: a child, mother and father, still in their bed. They must have been sleeping when the hot ash struck their house.
“We also found a dead man with a phone still in his hand.” Yogyakarta police force medic Teguh Dwi Santosa said: “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.”
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. The ranks of evacuees increased to 166,556 people after officials widened the danger zone from 15 to 20 kilometres early Friday.
Everyone living in the area was ordered to evacuate their homes and shelters immediately. The international airport at Yogyakarta was closed as ash clouds billowed from the 2,914-metre (9,616-foot) mountain to the altitude of cruising jetliners and the runway was covered in grey soot.
Officials said the airport would remain closed until Saturday. Merapi killed around 1,300 people in 1930 but even though the total death toll from its latest series of eruptions is only about 120, experts say they are the biggest convulsions since 1872.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced the deployment of an army brigade to help with relief and reconstruction in central Java, as the disaster-prone country struggles to cope with dual natural disasters.
“The military is preparing to deploy one brigade to handle disaster management,” he told a press conference.
A three-metre tsunami smashed into villages on the remote Mentawai island chain following a 7.7-magnitude earthquake off the coast on October 25, killing 428 people and leaving 15,000 homeless.
The Indonesian archipelago has dozens of active volcanoes and straddles major tectonic fault lines known as the “ring of fire” from the Indian to the Pacific oceans. The 2004 Asian tsunami killed almost 170,000 people in Indonesia alone.