Gas avalanche incinerates villagers after volcano blast

Searing heavy gas avalanched down an Indonesian volcano with a thunderous roar, torching houses and trees and incinerating villagers as they fled Mount Merapi's worst eruption in a century. Scores of bodies found yesterday raised the known death toll to 122.

The injured – with clothes, blankets and even mattresses fused to their skin by the 1,400F (750C) heat – were carried away on stretchers after the first big explosion just before midnight.

All day yesterday, Merapi shot towering plumes of ash that clogged the windshields of cars 300 miles (480km) away. Bursts of hot clouds occasionally interrupted aid efforts, with rescuers screaming: "Watch out! Hot cloud!"

Before yesterday, the toll stood at 44, most dying in the first blast on 26 October. The intensifying eruptions have baffled scientists who have monitored the mountain for years, and left them uncertain what to expect. Dozens of explosions that followed Merapi's initial blast had been predicted to ease pressure behind a magma dome. The danger zone residents have been ordered to flee has now been expanded to 12 miles (20km) from the crater.

Friday's explosion – said by vulcanologists to be the biggest since the 1870s – hit hardest in Bronggang, a village nine miles (15km) from the crater. Soldiers joined the rescue operations, pulling at least 78 bodies from homes and streets blanketed by ash up to one foot (30cm) deep. Crumpled roofs, charred carcasses of cattle and broken chairs – all layered in white soot – dotted the smouldering landscape.

The volcano, in the heart of the densely populated Java island, has erupted scores of times, killing more than 1,500 people in the past century alone. But tens of thousands of people live on its rolling slopes, drawn to soil made fertile by lava and volcanic debris.

"The heat surrounded us and there was white smoke everywhere," said Niti Raharjo, 47, who was thrown from his motorbike along with his 19-year-old son while trying to flee. "I saw people running, screaming in the dark, women so scared they fell unconscious," he said in hospital where they were both being treated for burns. There was an explosion that sounded like it was from a war ... and it got worse, the ash and debris raining down."

With bodies found in front of houses and in streets, it appeared that many of the villagers died from the searing gas while trying to escape, said Colonel Tjiptono, a deputy police chief.

More than 150 injured people – with burns, respiratory problems, broken bones and cuts – waited to be treated at the tiny Sardjito hospital, where the bodies piled up in the morgue, and two other hospitals. "We're totally overwhelmed here," a spokesman said.

In terms of the amount of volcanic material released, 1,765 million cubic feet (50 million cubic meters), "it was the biggest in at least a century", Gede Swantika, a state vulcanologist, said as plumes of smoke continued to shoot up more than 30,000ft (10,000m).

More than 100,000 people on Merapi have been evacuated to crowded emergency shelters, many by force, in the past week. But some return to their villages in an attempt to tend to their surviving livestock. The government has announced an $11m programme to buy the cows on the mountain to keep farmers off its slopes, and to compensate for dead animals.

Even scientists from Merapi's monitoring station were told they had to pack up and move down. They were scrambling to repair four of their five seismographs destroyed by the heavy soot showers.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Development Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Service and Installation Engineer

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: SEO / Outreach Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a global marketin...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Estimator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?