Thousands evacuate as Merapi menaces

Thousands of people have been evacuated from the slopes of Indonesia’s Mount Merapi as lava flows spread further down the slopes of the volcano on Tuesday, officials said.

The volcano alert was put on red—indicating a feared imminent eruption—on May 13 but residents have been particularly nervous since a deadly earthquake rocked the region 10 days ago.

Indonesian authorities evacuated thousands of people living in villages close to the peak of the volcano and many more joined them voluntarily as the volcanic rumblings escalated, officials said.

Experts fear that the mountain’s growing lava dome could collapse, sending lava and dangerous heat clouds down Merapi’s slopes.

In Kepuharjo high school, where more than 300 people have been staying since Monday night, women and children piled out of a truck that had collected them from the village of Petung, 5km from Merapi’s peak.

Pailah, a 27-year-old who carried a bundle of clothes and pillows wrapped in a sarong, said she had evacuated her two children, aged eight and six, because she was scared.

“It [Merapi] was making noises and raining ashes,” she said, adding “there were also sulphurous clouds”.

In the village itself several men milled about, saying they were not afraid.

“We’re already used to this,” said Suparno, a 40-year-old farmer with six cows to feed.

Higher up the road in Kopeng, four women said they were taking gifts to a friend, living even further up the mountain in Jambu, who had planned to marry on Thursday.

“We are considered to be young enough to run away quickly, so we don’t want to be evacuated,” said 44-year-old Mujirah.

At a look-out point high up the mountain, one family of four had travelled on two motorbikes from Mgaglik at the base of Merapi to see the volcano in action.

“We brought our kids to see it,” said Yanto, standing beside his wife and two children, aged five and 12.

In the district of Magelang—one of three in the danger zone—authorities were preparing to evacuate about 11 000 people from 15 hamlets.

“The evacuation is proceeding and will continue until late tonight,” said Agung, an official from the district’s disaster-management centre.

“It is no longer a mere call for the people to evacuate, they now have to evacuate. We are not taking any chance,” Agung said, adding that the elderly, women and children were a priority.

By 10am GMT close to 6 000 people had already been evacuated, Agung said.

In Slamen, nearly 4 000 were evacuated by Monday evening and figures would not be updated until Wednesday. Officials in Klaten, the other affected zone, could not be reached.

About 22 000 villagers were evacuated following the initial alert last month but most had returned home by the time the earthquake hit the region.

The situation deteriorated on Tuesday as a natural ridge known as the Geger Boyo, which had so far helped contain larger lava flows to the south-west and west of the mountain, collapsed overnight, volcanologists said.—AFP

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