Indonesia's Merapi volcano kills at least 28

by (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2010. Click For Restrictions. | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 27 October 2010 10:59 GMT

* Hospital records 28 dead, 14 injured with burns

* Volcano now "quite calm", but alert still high

* 154 dead, 400 missing after Sumatra tsunami (Adds detail about quake death toll)

By Beawiharta

SLEMAN, Indonesia, Oct 27 (Reuters) - One of Indonesia&${esc.hash}39;s most active volcanoes spewed out clouds of ash and jets of searing gas on Wednesday in an eruption that has killed at least 28 people and injured 14.

Mount Merapi, on the outskirts of the city of Yogyakarta on Java island, first erupted on Tuesday, a day after a tsunami pounded remote islands in western Indonesia, killing at least 154 people, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency. [ID:nJAK268965]

The agency said on its website that 4,000 people had been displaced by the tsunami and that 400 were still missing. Metro TV showed footage of villages flattened by the enormous wave, with dejected survivors sorting through rubble for belongings.

Authorities have been battling to handle both disasters, with more than 40,000 villagers evacuated from the slopes of Mount Merapi, where many houses have been destroyed, the ruins lying covered in white ash.

Kresno Heru Nugroho, head spokesman for Yogyakarta&${esc.hash}39;s Sardjito hospital, said 28 people had been killed by deadly bursts of hot air released by the volcano late on Tuesday. His colleague Endita Sri Andrianti said some were burned beyond recognition.

"We are still collecting details to identify them. Most of them were burned to death," she told Reuters by phone, adding that 14 villagers had suffered burn injuries.


Another hospital official told Reuters it was likely that among the dead was the elderly spiritual guardian of the mountain, Mbah Maridjan, believed by many Javanese to possess magical powers. Tests were being carried out to confirm a charred body found on the volcano was his.

"We will not get the results of the DNA test until tomorrow but we think it is the most likely possibility," Banu Hermawan said. "His shirt and sarong are the same as Mbah Maridjan&${esc.hash}39;s, and his size."

Maridjan&${esc.hash}39;s wife and children were at the hospital and had reported him missing, Hermawan said.

Many Indonesians posted tributes via Facebook and Twitter to the volcano&${esc.hash}39;s widely loved custodian, regarded as a protector who used a combination of Islamic and animist rituals to keep Merapi under control.

The Sultan of Yogyakarta also appeared on Metro TV to pay tribute to the elderly guardian.

Many of the victims had been found in or around Maridjan&${esc.hash}39;s house in the village of Kinahredjo, close to the volcano&${esc.hash}39;s crater, local media reported. A Reuters cameraman at Kinahredjo said he saw burns victims being brought down from the mountain in body bags. Houses in the village had been destroyed.

"Several houses and cattle have been burned by the hot cloud from the mountain," cameraman Johan Purnomo said. "All the houses are blanketed in ash, completely white. The leaves have been burned off the trees."

The country&${esc.hash}39; top vulcanologist, Surono, said Merapi was now "quite calm".

"There are no signs of another imminent eruption but I cannot guarantee anything and we don&${esc.hash}39;t know if this is just a temporary rest," Surono said. "I have advised local officials to continue the evacuations. It&${esc.hash}39;s still on the highest alert level."

However, Metro TV showed footage of some villagers returning home on Wednesday.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono flew back from Hanoi, where he had been due to take part in a summit of Asian leaders, to oversee relief efforts for the Merapi eruption and Sumatra tsunami, but said he expected to return to Vietnam for the main summit which runs from Thursday to Saturday.

"I will go back to Indonesia to ensure all the emergency response has been conducted well and after that... I will return to attend the East Asia Summit," he told reporters in Hanoi.

Indonesian news portal Okezone quoted the manager of Yogyakarta&${esc.hash}39;s Adisucipto International Airport as saying that flights had not been disrupted by the ash cloud.

In a 1994 eruption after the volcano&${esc.hash}39;s lava dome collapsed, 70 people were killed. The volcano killed 1,300 people in 1930.

(Additional reporting by Sunanda Creagh; Editing by Andrew Marshall and Miral Fahmy)

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