May 4, 2006

More Lava Spills from Indonesian Volcano

By Diyan Jari

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Lava flowed on Friday from Indonesia's rumbling Mount Merapi, which experts say could erupt at anytime, threatening thousands of people in the country's central Java heartland.

Several thousand people have moved away from Gunung Merapi -- or Fiery Mountain -- which has been simmering for weeks, but officials put the total number of residents on and near the country's most active volcano at around 14,000.

Merapi killed 70 people in a 1994 eruption and 1,300 in 1930.

Lava flows first seen spilling on Thursday from the side of the volcano, one of the most dangerous in the Pacific "Ring of Fire," were still visible, a state volcano observer said.

The latest spills were filling up a valley 650 feet from the mountain's peak, several miles away from inhabited areas on its slopes and in the foothills, said the Center for Volcano Research and Technology Development in Yogyakarta.

Yogyakarta, an ancient royal capital 270 miles east of Jakarta, is the nearest city to the volcano. The volcano is also close to Borobudur, a 1,200-year-old temple complex that is one of Indonesia's most famous tourists sites.

"It's still ongoing. Four trails of lava are flowing to the same place. However, the lava has not filled up the valley," said Triyani, an official from the state-run center.

She said the conditions still did not compel authorities to raise the alert level to its highest notch. That would require the immediate evacuation of people living under the volcano.

While not mandating evacuation, authorities in Indonesia have been urging people to leave voluntarily.

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

Some villagers living on the slopes or nearby, fearing they would lose property and livestock if they go, plan to stay until nature sends signals or the government forces them to leave.

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

Some local people consider Mount Merapi sacred, and every year a priest climbs to the top to make an offering.