05/15/2006, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Merapi volcano erupting

Emissions of boiling gas and rain of ash from the peak of one of the country's most dangerous volcanoes; many people have escaped, but some still have not decided to leave their homes.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Merapi volcano on Java Island has been in a stage of eruptive activity since this morning, with clouds, emissions of boiling gas and rain of ash. The developments have prompted many village residents to leave. Until yesterday, they refused to leave their homes despite an official evacuation order.

Grey ash covered part of the vegetation and rooftops or homes in Ketep zone, around 10km from the mountain slopes; many homes seem to be deserted after residents left. However, not all have gone away. Eye witnesses said there are people around cleaning their homes, while commercial minibuses continue to circulate, and small shops remain open.

The head of the centre of volcanic research and technology of Yogykarta said the mountain "has already erupted". He warned, however, that the process could be gradual and not sudden.

Last Saturday, 13 May, Indonesia raised the alert status for Merapi to the highest possible, indicated as Red Code or state of danger. Despite this, thousands of people along the mountain slopes still refuse to leave their homes. Some are awaiting signs of nature, others claim that sacrifices to the mountain will assure their safety, and others still simply do not want to leave their crops and cattle, their only source of income.

According to government estimates, only 12,000 out of around 34,000 people, who should have evacuated, have actually moved to emergency structures set up in four districts of the province: Magelang, Klaten, Boyolali and Sleman.

The Merapi, 2,968 metres high and situated near the city of Yogyakarta, has already claimed 70 lives in an eruption in 1994 and 1,300 in 1930. It is held to be one of Indonesia's most dangerous volcanoes.

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