Indonesia expands volcano evacuation zone


JAKARTA — Indonesia expanded the danger zone around Mount Merapi as the volcano in central Java erupted again on Wednesday, ordering people living closer than 15 kilometers (10 miles) to evacuate, officials said. “We’ve decided to widen the danger zone to 15 kilometers, the refugee camps must be moved outside the zone,” government volcanologist Surono told AFP. The previous exclusion zone radiated 10 kilometers from the volcano. Around 75,000 people have evacuated the area since Tuesday last week, when Merapi started its latest series of eruptions, killing 36 people. Indonesia’s Mount Merapi volcano spewed more deadly heat clouds Wednesday as President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited some of the 50,000 evacuees in shelters. Searing gas billowed from the crater of the 2,914-meter (9,616-foot) mountain in central Java as the president repeated scientists’ warnings that further eruptions are likely over the coming weeks. Yudhoyono asked the evacuees to be patient and promised government assistance to rebuild their communities once the all-clear is given for their return. The transport ministry re-issued a warning Wednesday to airlines to avoid certain routes over central Java due to the volcanic ash.

Six flights from Malaysia and Singapore were cancelled on Tuesday, the first day of the aviation warning. The disaster-prone Indonesian archipelago has dozens of active volcanoes and straddles major tectonic fault lines from the Indian to the Pacific oceans. In the Mentawai island chain 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) to the west of Mount Merapi, more than 400 people were killed when a tsunami triggered by a 7.7-magnitude earthquake slammed into coastal villages on Oct. 25. About 15,000 people were made homeless in that disaster, which scientists said was directly related to the 2004 Asian tsunami, also created by an earthquake off the Sumatran coast.

Officials said bad weather was hampering operations to bring aid supplies to the isolated islands. “More than 10 ships and helicopters from the military and the police have been dispatched but the bad weather has prevented them from regularly distributing food and medical supplies,” a disaster response official said. Meanwhile concerns were raised for three New Zealand yachtsmen who have not been heard from since the tsunami. They were believed to be sailing towards the Mentawais on the night the three-meter wave struck.