May 14, 2006

Indonesia’s Merapi volcano spews steam, hot ash

By Tomi Soetjipto

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia (Reuters) - Indonesia's Mount Merapi
volcano spewed hot clouds and ash rain early on Monday, a
volcanologist said, but there was no confirmation of reports of
fresh lava flows.

Yogyakarta Administration Secretary Bambang Susanto had
earlier told Elshinta news radio that, according to information
he had received, the mountain "exploded" in the pre-dawn hours
with lava and hot ash.

However, Ratmono Purbo, the head of the volcanology center
in Yogyakarta near the volcano, told reporters that he had
confirmation only of clouds and hot ash rains.

Neither are new since activity picked up in recent weeks on
Merapai, one of the most menacing volcanoes in the Pacific
"Ring of Fire."

But Purbo said of the hot clouds: "This is the biggest pile
we have so far."

They "are billowing out of the crater for four kilometers
(2.5 miles)."

Ash rain fell on some parts of the mountain slopes but had
not reached populated areas, Purbo said.

Indonesia raised the alert status of Merapi to the highest
level, also known as code red or danger status, on Saturday,
although experts said they could not predict when it would

Senior government volcanologist Ahmad Dali of the
volcanology coordinating center in Bandung said an eruption of
the volcano would be defined as volcanic material being ejected
straight into the sky to a substantial height.

Thick clouds of charcoal gray smoke billowed periodically
from the crater on Sunday, but there were no visible signs of
lava flowing, as it already has on several occasions in recent

The top alert level for the mountain means residents can be
forced to evacuate, and authorities moved more than 5,000
people living near the volcano to shelters in safe areas after
the new alert level.

But some still have refused to leave their homes while
others who have continue to return during the days to tend
livestock, collect grass, or otherwise carry on their routines.

Indonesia, which has the world's highest density of
volcanoes, has been struggling to conduct mass evacuation as
many residents would rather rely on natural signs than official

Residents say signals would include lightning around the
mountain's peak or animals moving down its slopes.

Officials put the total number of residents on and near the
mountain at around 14,000.

(With additional reporting by Harry Suhartono and Diyan