Indonesian volcano unleashes its biggest eruption yet; strong earthquake hits eastern province

Indonesia's deadly Mount Merapi erupted Wednesday with its biggest volcanic explosion yet, forcing hasty evacuations of more villagers and the panicked refugees who already fled the initial blast a week ago.

A strong earthquake struck off eastern Indonesia early Wednesday evening, but no damage or injuries were immediately reported and no tsunami warning was issued. Indonesia rests on a series of fault lines that make the sprawling archipelago nation one of the most seismically active places in the world.

The U.S. Geological Survey said Wednesday's quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.1. It hit off Papua province some 18 miles (29 kilometers) beneath the ocean floor.

The volcanic eruption lasted more than an hour and shot searing ashes miles into the sky. Panicked people in Umbulhardjo refugee camp screamed and children cried when they saw the volcanic materials hurled into the sky and down the mountain's slopes.

"This is an extraordinary eruption, triple from the first eruption" on Oct. 26, government volcanologist Surono said.

The government widened the danger zone to 15 kilometers (9 miles) from 10 kilometers (6 miles) as the massive blast endangered places that had not been not evacuated earlier as well as refugee camps within that distance.

Soldiers were moving people in trucks from the camp which is 10 kilometers from the crater to Wukirsari, about 15 kilometers from the peak.

"I (didn't) think of anything else except to save my wife and son. We left my house and everything," said Tentrem Wahono, 50, who lives in Kaliurang village, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the crater. He and his family fled on a motorbike, "racing with the explosive sounds, like the searing ash chased us from behind."

The last eruption has raised Merapi's status to "crisis" condition, said Andi Arief, a special staff at the presidential office dealing with disaster and social assistance.

No new casualties were immediately reported from Wednesday's activity. Most of the 38 deaths attributed to the volcano occurred the first day.

The volcano and tsunami that hit remote islands in western Indonesia last week have claimed nearly 470 lives and sent tens of thousands crowding into emergency shelters. Relief operations are expected to take weeks, possibly months.

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

More than 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) west of the volcano, helicopters and boats were delivering aid to the most distant Mentawai islands, where an Oct. 25 tsunami swept entire villages to sea.

The death toll was lowered by three Wednesday to 428, said Ade Edward, a disaster official, with 75 others still missing. The figures were revised after compiling and comparing data from various private and government search and rescue teams, health workers and security forces, he said.

There has been talk in recent days, meanwhile, about relocating villagers away from vulnerable coastlines.

"I'm all for it," said Regen, who lives on Pagai Utara island and goes by one name. "We're all terrified now, especially at night, and wouldn't mind moving further inland."


Associated Press writers Irwan Firdaus and Niniek Karmini contributed to this report from Jakarta.

Source: AP News

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