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Volcano Erupts on Indonesian Island

October 26, 2010

Indonesia’s most volatile volcano erupted Tuesday after scientists warned the pressure building beneath Mount Merapi could trigger the most powerful explosion in twelve years.

According to footage from the private station MetroTV, smoke poured out of Mount Merapi, which is located at the border of Central Java and Yogyakarta.

An Associated Press reporter said he saw 20 people were being treated for burns from the hot ash spewing from the volcano.  One burn victim’s skin was coated in the gray powder, which also blanketed vehicles in the area.

Authorities urged the 11,400 villagers who live on the 9,737-foot mountain to evacuate.  Some adults said they decided to stay to tend to homes and farms on the slopes.

Scientists fear the current activity could foreshadow a much more destructive explosion in the coming weeks or months. 

Indonesian officials were trying to assess the impact of Monday’s 7.7-magnitude earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, about 800 miles from Merapi, as they dealt with the volcano.  The earthquake caused a tsunami that left hundreds dead or missing on a string of remote islands.

According to MetroTV, a baby died when a mother ran in panic after the eruption started. 

Subandriyo, the chief vulcanologist in the area, said the eruption started before dusk Tuesday.

“There was a thunderous rumble that went on for ages, maybe 15 minutes,” said Sukamto, a farmer who by nightfall had yet to abandon his home on the slopes. “Then huge plumes of hot ash started shooting up into the air.”

Scientists warned the pressure building beneath the dome could presage one of the biggest eruptions in years at Merapi, which lies about 310 miles southeast of Jakarta on the main island of Java.

“The energy is building up. … We hope it will release slowly,” government vulcanologist Surono told reporters. “Otherwise, we’re looking at a potentially huge eruption, bigger than anything we’ve seen in years.”

An avalanche of blistering gases and rock fragments raced down Mount Merapi in 2006.  A similar eruption in 1994 killed 60 people, and 1,300 people died in a 1930 blast.

The archipelago is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity because of its location on the Pacific Ring of Fire. 

There are over 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia, which is spread across 17,500 islands.

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