AT least 54 people were killed and scores injured today when Indonesia’s Mount Merapi volcano erupted again, incinerating villages as far as 18km away.
The latest deaths bring the total toll to more than 100 since the country’s most active volcano started erupting on October 26.
“The number of dead bodies we have received is 54,” said Banu Hermawan, a spokesman for Sarjito general hospital in Yogyakarta.
“The evacuation process is still ongoing now. We’re afraid there’ll be more deaths as some locations are still inaccessible due to hot ash and volcanic material.”
Many of the dead were children from Argomulyo village, 18km from the crater of the volcano, according to an AFP reporter at the scene and emergency response officials.
“Argomulyo village has been burned down to the ground by the heat clouds. Many children have died there. When I was in the village the ground was still hot,” Yogyakarta police force medic Teguh Dwi Santosa told AFP.
A river running through the village overflowed with a thick mixture of mud and ash, and several bodies lay unclaimed in the debris, witnesses said.
Ash, deadly heat clouds and molten debris gushed from the mouth of the 2914m mountain and shot high into the sky for most of the night and into the morning.
There was panic and chaos on the roads as people tried to flee in the darkness, rescue workers said.
The ranks of evacuees swelled past 100,000 people, with 30,000 moved into a sports stadium about 25km away from the peak.
“The emergency shelters are now overcrowded,” emergency response field coordinator Widi Sutikno said.
The international airport at Yogyakarta was closed as ash clouds billowed to the altitude of cruising jetliners and the runway was covered in gray soot, officials said.
Government volcanologist Surono said the blasts were the largest yet.
“This is the biggest eruption so far. The heat clouds went down the slopes as far as 13km and the explosion was heard as far as 20km away,” he said.
The exclusion zone was widened from 15km to 20km around the mountain and everyone living in the area was ordered to evacuate their homes and shelters immediately, he said.
Indonesia’s transport ministry has told pilots to stay at least 12km away from the rumbling volcano and several flights linking central Java to Singapore and Malaysia have been cancelled this week.