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Indonesian Volcano Refugees Flee Following Worst Eruption Yet

November 3, 2010

Mount Merapi launched lava and hot ash into the skies for the fourth time in eight days Wednesday morning, sending villagers and refugees scurrying to move further away from the Indonesian volcano following its most intense eruptions yet.

Reporting from Jakarta, Slamet Riyadi of the Associated Press (AP) said, “The eruption lasted more than an hour and shot searing ashes miles into the sky. Panicked people in [the] Umbulhardjo refugee camp screamed and children cried when they saw the volcanic materials hurled into the sky and down the mountain’s slopes.”

Surono, a volcanologist with the Indonesian government, called the eruption “extraordinary” and told the AP that it was “triple” the strength of the initial one, which occurred on October 26. As a result, Riyadi said that officials raised the situation’s status to “crisis” levels and increased the danger zone around the volcano known as the ‘Mountain of Fire’ from six miles to nine.

“An estimated 75,000 people have been evacuated from the area since Mount Merapi first erupted last Tuesday,” BBC News reported on Wednesday, adding that there was “no immediate word on casualties” and that local officials are concerned because funding from the refugee aid service will expire in five days unless a national disaster is declared in the area.

Mount Merapi, a 9,600-foot volcano located at the border of Central Java and Yogyakarta, has been responsible for an estimated 36 to 39 deaths, according to various media reports. It is just one of a series of natural disasters to hit the Asian nation of Indonesia over the past two weeks, as the country has also been ravaged by a 7.7-magnitude earthquake and a massive tsunami that resulted in over 440 fatalities during that time period.

Prior to this most recent eruption, Mount Merapi last shot lava, ash, and rock skyward in June 2006. While only two individuals were killed as a direct result of those eruptions, earthquakes that were tied to the event resulted in as many as 5,000 deaths. The worst eruption at the “Mountain of Fire” occurred in 1930, with more than 1,300 people losing their lives as a result.

Image Caption: Pyroclastic flows from Mount Merapi’s 2006 eruption. Credit: Lesto Kusumo

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