Death toll from Indonesian volcano climbs toward 100 |

Death toll from Indonesian volcano climbs toward 100

MOUNT MERAPI, Indonesia (AP) – The death toll from Indonesia’s volcano has climbed to nearly 100 in more than a week after a blistering gas cloud ripped through a mountainside village.

Hospital spokesman Heru Nugroho said 54 bodies were brought in after the inferno. More than 66 others were injured, many of them critically with burns. Mount Merapi’s booming explosion just after midnight triggered a panicked evacuation. Men with ash-covered faces streamed down Mount Merapi on motorcycles followed by truckloads of women and children, many crying.

Officials barked out orders on bullhorns as rocks and debris rained from the sky.

Soldiers joined rescue operations in Bronggang, the torched village nine miles from the crater. They loaded charred corpses into vehicles and carried away the injured on stretchers.

“We’re totally overwhelmed here!” said Heru Nugroho, a spokesman at the Sardjito hospital, as the badly burned victims arrived.

Mount Merapi, which means “Fire Mountain,” has erupted many times in the last century, often with deadly results.

The greatest danger is always pyroclastic flows.

Such clouds can reach temperatures of up to 1,400 degree Fahrenheit, while racing down the slopes at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.

Activity at the mountain forced an airport in nearby Yogyakarta to close Friday.

Subandrio, a state volcanologist, meanwhile, said Mount Merapi’s “danger zone” was extended by three miles (five kilometers) to 12 miles (20 kilometers) from the crater’s mouth after the new eruption.

Even scientists from Merapi’s monitoring station were told they had to pack up and move down the mountain.

Despite earlier predictions by scientists that dozens of big explosions that followed Merapi’s initial Oct. 26 blast would ease pressure building up behind a magma dome, eruptions have been intensifying.

“I’ve never seen it act like this,” said Surono, a state expert on volcanos, who has observed Merapi for more than 15 years. “We don’t know what to expect.”

More than 75,000 people living along its fertile slopes have been evacuated to crowded emergency shelters, many by force. Some return to their villages during lulls in activity, however, to tend to their livestock.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 235 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanos because it sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped string of faults that lines the Pacific Ocean.

The volcano’s initial blast occurred less than 24 hours after a towering tsunami slammed into the remote Mentawai islands on the western end of the country, sweeping entire villages to sea and killing at least 428 people.

There, too, thousands of people were displaced, many living in government camps.