Thousands flee, some hurt as Mount Merapi erupts on Java

October 26th, 2010 - 7:43 pm ICT by BNO News  

MOUNT MERAPI, INDONESIA (BNO NEWS) — Mount Merapi erupted on the Indonesian island of Java on late Tuesday afternoon, causing thousands of residents to flee the area, officials said.

The eruption began at around 5.50 p.m. local time on Tuesday when three loud explosions rocked the mountain, spewing volcanic ashes into the sky. Few details about the extent of the eruption were immediately available, but local media reported that thousands of residents had begun to flee the area in panic and said several people had been injured.

Mount Merapi, which literally translates to ‘Mountain of Fire’, is one of the country’s most activate volcanoes. Scientists on Monday had raised the alert level to its highest level after white clouds of smoke began pouring out of the mountain, signaling an imminent eruption.

Authorities said more than 50,000 people could be in danger if the volcano erupted, and urged residents to move to safer ground immediately. However, many locals refused to evacuate, saying it was too soon.

Mount Merapi, located on the border of Central Java province and the touristic Yogyakarta, could affect regencies that include Sleman, Klaten, Magelang, and Boyolali. Thousands of people have been killed in previous eruptions.

In June 2006, Merapi erupted and killed several people on the island. However, officials believe the volcano could now have a Plinian eruption, which is the most violent of the four classified types of eruptions and has been compared to a nuclear explosion.

Pyroclastic flows, which are usually brought before a volcano erupts, were seen as clouds from far away before the volcano erupted on Tuesday. Subandrio, Head of the Volcanic Technology Development and Investigation Agency of Yogyakarta, said that the temperatures of these clouds may be as high as 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,832 degrees Fahrenheit). As those clouds move down to the slopes of Mount Merapi, as far as four kilometers (2.4 miles) toward Kaliasem, the temperature decreases to about 500 degrees Celsius (932 degrees Fahrenheit).

Last week, the volcanic cone grew by about 8.5 centimeters (3.35 inches) per day, increasing to 16.4 centimeters (6.4 inches) per day on Friday, but clouds and poor visibility have hampered scientists’ effort to measure the mountain’s distention.

The Indonesian government on Monday prepared a relief package of Rp. 25 billion (US$2.8 million) to respond to the expected eruption, which became reality just 24 hours later. Furthermore, police and military were already on standby to deal with refugees and victims.

The eruption in 2006 was not the only notable and deadly eruption. Other major eruptions took place in 1006, 1786, 1822, 1872, and 1930. The 1930 eruption left at least 1,400 people killed.

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