Indonesia Volcano Eruption Turns Deadly

October 27, 2010; 10:20 AM
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Indonesia's Merapi Volcano erupted with deadly effect on Tuesday following days of rising seismic unrest deep beneath the dangerous mountain on the heavily populated island of Java.

Despite a calming of the mountain on Wednesday, officials warned of continued danger of eruption from pent-up pressure within the highly unstable lava dome at the top of the volcano.

News reports monitored from Indonesia said on Wednesday that the death toll had reached at least 30 people. The deaths were apparently caused by contact with burning hot volcanic ash.

According to media reports on Wednesday, among the dead was a man entrusted to be "spiritual caretaker" for the mountain.

A series of eruptions began on Tuesday including blasts and clouds of ash. Reports of suffocating, burning ash being the cause of death indicate that pyroclastic ash flows blasted out of the volcano swept down its slopes to inhabited areas.

Pyroclastic flows are a highly dangerous volcanic phenomenon in which the burning hot ash and gas blasted from a volcano form a ground-hugging cloud that flows downhill with gravity. Such flows can utterly destroy or kill anything in their path.

Alerted by the volcano's rash of small quakes, authorities of Indonesia had, as of Monday, warned residents of the area around a volcano of an impending eruption.

Evacuation orders issued on Monday applied to about 19,000 residents living within 6 miles of the summit crater.

A major city, Yogyakarta, lies about 15 miles south of Merapi.


Mount Merapi, Java, Indonesia (Credit: Smithsonian National Museum)

The volcano, 9,700-foot high Mount Merapi, showed increasing seismic restlessness during the past week. According to officials of the state office of volcanology, about 500 volcanic quakes were recorded over the weekend.

A vulcanologist said that magma, or molten rock, was rising deep below the mountain and was within 1 km (about 3,000 feet) below the crater.

Merapi is a highly active, dangerous volcano with a steep, unstable southern slope which is prone to failure and landsliding during an eruption. About 2,000 years ago, a catastrophic collapse apparently occurred here, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.


View Larger MapMerapi (center, with smoke plume) and Merbabu Volcano (top)

Merapi (meaning "mountain of fire") last erupted in 2006 killing two people. A 1930 eruption claimed more than 1,000 lives.

Merapi Volcano Observatory is located near the restless mountain.

Indonesia has 129 volcanoes (about 43 on Java alone) deemed to be active. Of these, 69 have erupted historically.

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