April 18, 2006

Residents near Indonesia volcano urged to evacuate

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Many villagers living near a tremoring
Indonesian volcano have ignored calls to evacuate and officials
said on Tuesday local governments must be vigilant in prepare
for the worst.

Authorities have placed Mount Merapi, which overlooks the
ancient city of Yogyakarta, on Orange Code, or the second
highest alert level, following fears of an eruption due to an
increase in the number of tremors.

"We have tried to make people understand that danger is
lurking and up until today we are still trying to persuade
them. However, they seem to feel comfortable with it," said
Triyani, an official in charge of observing Merapi at the
state-run Center for Volcano Research and Technology
Development in Yogyakarta.

"We have advised local governments around Merapi to take
all the needed action to mitigate possible disaster from
volcanic eruption," she said.

Triyani added the complacency stems from residents who have
not felt significant jolts, and the fact that the volcano's
swelling in places, a sign an eruption may come soon, is not
visible yet to the naked eye.

Subandriyo, head of the center's Merapi department, said
officials are trying to figure out the directions in which
materials will spew and spread if an eruption occurs.

"At the moment, we are at the conclusion that Merapi's
activities are increasing and may possibly lead to eruption,"
Indonesia's national news agency Antara quoted him as saying.

Officials said the military had deployed more than 200
trucks and buses to evacuate villagers living on the slopes of
Merapi near Yogyakarta, 460 km (285 miles) west of the capital,

Mount Merapi's increased volcanic activity prompted
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to order preparations for

Merapi's last major eruption was in 1994 when more than 60
people were killed. One of its most destructive eruptions was
in 1930, when 1,300 people were killed.

Indonesia sits astride the geologically active Pacific
"Ring of Fire" and has more than 100 active volcanoes.

Many Indonesians see activity in Mount Merapi in the
mystical heartland of Java as an omen of a looming political

Thousands of villagers were evacuated in January 1997 when
Merapi became more active, just months before the Asian
financial crisis struck.

Most Javanese, who make up the bulk of Indonesia's 220
million people, are Muslim, but many cling to a spiritual past
and believe a supernatural kingdom exists on top of Merapi.