Minggu, 14 November 2010

As Indonesian Villagers Have No Chance to Flee

Death toll: Forensic experts examine the bodies of victims at a hospital in Yogyakarta. More deaths are expected after many villagers suffered severe burns

KOMPAS.com - The Mount Merapi volcano has claimed the lives of scores more victims today with the death toll now standing at 79. In tragic scenes that defied belief, 35 scorched bodies were carried down the slopes of the angry volcano today after two entire villages were engulfed by blistering gas and ash.

The fatalities have shocked Indonesia's Yogyakarta region, with angry questions asked about why villagers weren't evacuated by police and troops who had been ordered to clear everyone off the mountain.

More deaths are expected, for there were cases of critical burns among the 65 other people who were overwhelmed by the clouds that rolled down from the volcano's lip. The fierce eruption during the night gave people living in the villages of Bronggang and Argomulyo, 10 miles from the crater, no chance of fleeing from the rolling death clouds.

Others living nearby jumped onto motorcycles or clambered into trucks to flee to lower ground. Crying women and children, covered in ash, arrived at refuges on the plains to tell of their fears for relatives whose fate remained unknown. Soldiers ordered into the villages found bodies still lying in their beds, skin scorched off as their simple homes burned around them.

'The mountain refuses to give any of these poor people peace,' said hospital spokesman Heru Nugroho as the bodies from the overnight eruption were brought in.

'We have counted 35 so far but it is fair to say that the death toll will not stop there.

'Many people are critical and they are unlikely to survive.'

Mr Nugroho said people were asking why Bronggang and Argomulyo villages had not been evacuated when volcanologists had issued warnings that the volcano was at its most dangerous and more fierce eruptions could be expected. The hospital staff were hard-pressed to deal with people suffering burns and severe respiratory problems.

As many as 75,000 people, most of them farming families, have been evacuated from the slopes of the mountain, but large numbers have defied orders and returned to check on their homes and livestock at times when they believed the mountain had begun to quieten.

But authorities, who have already widened the danger zone from nine miles to 12 miles, have warned that further violent eruptions could be expected in coming weeks. Scientists said pressure apparently building inside Merapi's crater may mean the worst is yet to come.

'It's never acted like this before,' Surano, a geologist, said after watching the wide, fast sweeps of a needle on a seismograph machine. 'It looks like we may be entering an even worse stage.' The volcano, one of the world's most active, has erupted many times in the last century, often with deadly results.

The grim scenes have brought back memories for many of 1994, when 60 people were killed by the volcano, while in 1930, more than a dozen villages were torched, leaving up to 1,300 dead. Tens of thousands of people usually live on the mountain's rolling slopes, drawn to soil made fertile by generations of molten lava and volcanic debris.

Many of them fled at the first re-eruption and the evacuation in army trucks, cars and on motorcycles continued yesterday - though the dust means visibility is a serious hazard.

But more than 75,000 of them are now packed in crowded government camps well away from the base and, with no sign Merapi is going to quiet any time soon, may have to stay for weeks, or possibly months.

Some officials warned food, water and other supplies were running short. Mount Merapi's danger zone was widened on Wednesday from six miles to nine miles from the peak.

Even so, dozens of villagers displaced by the disaster took advantage of a brief lull in activity today to head back up the mountain to check on their livestock.

'We are really scared, but we have to feed our cattle,' said Sukadi, a 48-year-old farmer, as he brought grass to Boyong, his village six miles from the crater.

'We're just going quickly,' added Semin, 54, his friend. 'We'll head back to the camp as soon as we're done... our families are there.'

Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 235 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanoes because it sits along the Pacific 'Ring of Fire,' a horseshoe-shaped string of faults that lines the Pacific.

The volcano's initial 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.

Sumber : The Daily Mail

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