Indonesian volcano spews massive ash and gas cloud

Rocks and debris rain from the sky; abandoned homes set on fire and dozens of carcasses of incinerated cattle litter scorched flanks.

Indonesia volcano ash cloud (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Indonesia volcano ash cloud
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
MOUNT MERAPI, Indonesia — Towering clouds of hot ash gushed from the mouth of Indonesia's deadly volcano Thursday, hours after its most explosive eruption in a deadly week sent screaming women and children fleeing mountainside villages and emergency shelters.
"It looks like we may be entering an even worse stage," said Surono, a state volcanologist, who'd earlier said continual eruptions since Oct. 26 appeared to be easing pressure behind Mount Merapi's magma dome near the tip of the crater. "We have no idea what's happening now."
As rocks and debris rained from the sky late Wednesday, soldiers forced villagers into trucks and carried them down the rumbling mountain. Several abandoned homes were set on fire and dozens of carcasses of incinerated cattle littered the scorched flanks.
No new casualties were reported after that fiery blast or a pre-dawn eruption Thursday, which spewed searing clouds of gas and ash nearly four miles (6 kilometers) into the air.
Residents in towns up to 130 miles (240 kilometers) away said trees, cars and roads were blanketed in heavy gray ash.
Mount Merapi, which means "Fire Mountain," has erupted many times in the last century, often with deadly results.
Forty people have died since it burst back to life just over a week ago. In 1994, 60 people were killed, while in 1930, more than a dozen villages were torched, leaving up to 1,300 dead.
Still, as with other volcanoes in this seismically charged country, tens of thousands call its fertile slopes home. More than 70,000 are now packed in crowded government camps well away from the base.
Djarot Nugroho, a disaster management agency official, said funds to buy instant noodles, clean water and other supplies for the refugees could run out within days unless the government declared a national disaster, bringing in much-needed federal funds.
There have been more than a dozen strong eruptions at Merapi in the last week and thousands of volcanic tremors and ash bursts, prompting officials to close some air routes above the mountain.
The danger zone was widened from six miles to nine miles (10 to 15 kilometers) from the peak because of the heightened threat.
Soldiers and police blocked all roads leading up the 9,700-foot (3,000-meter) mountain, chasing away curious onlookers and television crews and reporters.
Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 235 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanos because it sits along the Pacific "Ring of Fire," a horseshoe-shaped string of faults that lines the Pacific.
The volcano's initial Oct. 26 blast occurred less than 24 hours after a towering tsunami slammed into the remote Mentawai islands on the western end of the country, sweeping entire villages to sea and killing at least 428 people.
There, too, thousands of people were displaced, many living in government camps.