May 4, 2006

Indonesia’s Merapi Volcano Spewing Lava

JAKARTA -- Lava flowed out of Indonesia's rumbling Mount Merapi on Thursday but it fell far away from inhabited areas on its slopes and at the foothills, a volcanologist said.

Gunung Merapi, or Fiery Mountain, is one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the Pacific "Ring of Fire" that has been rumbling for weeks.

But authorities have not yet raised the alert level from "2" to "1," which would require the immediate evacuation of people living under the volcano.

"It started from 2 a.m. (1900 GMT) and is still flowing until now to a valley 200 meters (650 feet) away from the peak," said volcano observer Sapari Dwiyono from the state-run Center for Volcano Research and Technology Development in Yogyakarta, the closest city to the volcano.

"The closest houses are 6 km (4 miles) away," he told Reuters, adding the flow could only be seen from the mountain's southeastern foothill.

Merapi, the most active volcano in Indonesia which has the world's highest density of volcanoes, killed 70 people in a 1994 eruption and 1,300 in 1930.

Indonesia has already moved about 1,300 people away from Merapi, but officials put the total number of residents on and near the mountain at around 14,000, which includes villages in Central Java and Yogyakarta provinces.

Most of those relocated are women, children and the elderly. Some return to their homes near the volcano during the day to feed livestock, local officials say.

Villagers living on the slopes or in the shadows of Mount Merapi say they will stay put until nature gives its signals, or the government forces them to leave. Many fear losing property and livestock if they go.