SLEMAN, Indonesia (Reuters) - An Indonesian volcano erupted with renewed ferocity on Friday, killing 65 people, bringing the total death told to over 100 and blanketing the area with white ash.
Mount Merapi, on the outskirts of Yogyakarta in Central Java, began spewing deadly clouds of ash and superheated gas last week. The eruptions have killed 109 people and forced the evacuation of more than 150,000, the chief welfare minister said on Friday.
At least 58 burned bodies had been brought to Yogyakarta’s Sardjito hospital on Friday, Metro TV quoted Rizal, a forensic doctor from Yogyakarta’s police identification unit, as saying.
“It is possible the death toll will rise as we continue to search for victims,” said Rizal, who, like many Indonesians, uses only one name.
Almost 200 people have been injured since the eruptions began, according to the National Disaster Mitigation Agency.
Yogyakarta’s international airport is closed and flights to Yogyakarta have been diverted to the nearby city of Solo.
A column of ash billowed at least 4 km above the crater of Mount Merapi as authorities evacuated villages within a 20 km radius of the volcano, said the country’s top volcanologist, Surono.
“It’s much worse than in the past. We cannot predict its behavior,” he said.
A Reuters photographer near the volcano said he saw blackened bodies being carried into Sardjito hospital on Friday morning.
“Their clothes had melted onto their skin,” he said.
The air in Yogyakarta is now so thick with ash that motorists must drive with their headlights on during the day, he said. “We can’t see anything, it’s very dark. The trees are all white with ash,” he said. “It’s like it’s raining sand.”
Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said that the government will cover the cost of livestock lost in the disaster, in an effort to convince villagers to evacuate.
“There is no sign Merapi is abating,” Yudhoyono said.
Indonesia is also struggling with the aftermath of a tsunami in the remote Mentawai islands off Sumatra last week that killed at least 431 people.
Additional reporting by Fitri Wulandari, Olivia Rondonuwu and Telly Nathalia; Writing by Sunanda Creagh, Editing by Nick Macfie