Indonesia volcano spews searing ash after lull

3-minute blast prompts chaos among villagers who had taken advantage of a lull in activity to rush home and check on their livestock.

Indonesia Volcano Night 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Indonesia Volcano Night 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
MOUNT MERAPI, Indonesia — A deadly volcano in Indonesia spewed another searing cloud of ash down its slopes Sunday, prompting panic and chaos among thousands of villagers who had taken advantage of a lull in activity to rush home and check on their livestock.
Sirens and loudspeakers blared, and panicked people jumped into rivers trying to escape the searing heat, while others sprinted down the mountain or sped off in cars and trucks, local disaster official Rusdiyanto said.
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The three-minute blast sent hot gray ash tumbling down the southern and eastern slopes of Mount Merapi for about six miles (four kilometers), said Subandrio, an official with the volcano's monitoring agency.
The volcano has killed 38 people in the past week. It wasn't clear if there were any new casualties Sunday.
The crisis came as the country's emergency response network battled to respond to a tsunami created by a 7.7-magnitude earthquake near a chain of remote islands.
The number of people killed in the twin catastrophes, which struck on different ends of the seismically charged country last week, climbed to almost 500 on Sunday.
More than 53,000 people were evacuated from the area around the volcano after it began erupting on Tuesday.
The notoriously unpredictable mountain had been mostly quiet Sunday after letting out its most powerful eruption of the week the previous day, sending fiery lava oozing down its slopes, temporarily closing a nearby airport and claiming another life. In the morning, a red glow emanated from the volcano's peak, but the violent bursts and rumbling of the past 48 hours were reduced to a mere murmur.
Despite the risk and warnings from officials, thousands of people who had been evacuated from the danger zone rushed back Sunday morning, piling into trucks, cars and on the backs of motorcycles to check on their livestock high up on the scorched slopes.
"My farm has been destroyed by volcanic debris and thick dust. ... All I have left now are my cows and goats," said Subarkah, who lives less than two miles (three kilometers) from the peak. "I have to find grass and bring it up to them, otherwise they'll die."
Officials have struggled to keep villagers off the slopes of Merapi, which means Fire Mountain. More than 2,000 troops had to be called in Saturday to force men, women and children to leave.