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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Yogyakarta in the line of fire

Death toll mounts, thousands force to flee from hot ash ejected by Central Java’s “Mountain of Fire”.  City faces threat as volcano keeps spewing thick ash and fiery gas; death toll rises to 138.

Mount Merapi threatened the historic city of Yogyakarta yesterday as it continued to rumble and groan, spitting grey clouds of ash and gas 8km into the air, coating windows, windshields and leaves hundreds of kilometres away.

Officials admitted it was difficult to anticipate what next to expect from the killer volcano.  Residents of Yogyakarta said outdoor activities have ground to a halt.  Every inch is covered with a thick layer of ash that has also darkened the sky for days.

If you stay outside for five to ten minutes, it makes your eyes sore and irritates your skin.  Many shops and restaurants have shuttered including those in the shopping area of Jalan Malioboro, as families huddle to discuss whether to stay or to evacuate the city.

On Friday, searing gas surged down Merapi’s sides, torching houses and trees and incinerating villagers caught in its path, many as they tried to flee. 

The number of people who have died as a result of that blast rose to 94 yesterday.  That brought the death to 138 since the latest eruptions began two weeks ago.

Many of those killed on Friday were from Bronggang 15 km from the crater.  The authorities have expanded the mountain’s danger zone to 20 km from 15 km.  Rescuers yesterday picked through the rubble as officials prepared for a mass burial of those killed.

Yogyakarta, a city of 400,000 steeped in Javanese culture and tradition, is 28 km from Merapi’s crater.  The impact of the eruption on the city was unlike anyone had experience before.

Volcanologists said it is unclear what will happen next with the 2,968m tall mountain.  Friday deadly explosion came despite predictions that the volcano would ease up after two weeks of minor eruptions.   
Yogyakarta city is now on the highest alert level.

Since Friday at dawn, residents in the seven sub-districts have been told to be ready to be evacuated at any time.

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