Rescuers try to reach volcano and earthquake victims

Rescuers try to reach volcano and earthquake victims

The death toll from an Indonesian tsunami has climbed to 154 with more than 400 people still missing, an official said today, as rescuers tried to help its victims and those affected by an erupting volcano.

The 7.7-magnitude quake that struck on Monday 13 miles beneath the ocean floor triggered a 10-foot wave that hit several remote islands.

With rescuers struggling to reach many of the hardest-hit villages, reports of damage and casualties are only just starting to arrive.

Harmensyah, who heads the West Sumatra provincial disaster management centre, released the increased death toll as rescuers continued to try to reach victims of the tsunami and a volcano erupting on the island of Java.

The twin disasters happened hours apart in one of the most seismically active regions on the planet.

Rescuers scoured the slopes of Indonesia’s most volatile volcano today after the eruption that spewed clouds of searing hot ash, killing at least 28 villagers.

The blast eased pressure that had been building up behind a lava dome perched on the volcano’s crater, but experts said the worst may not be over. The dome could unleash deadly gases and debris if it collapses.

“It’s a little calmer today,” said Surono, chief of the Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation. “No hot clouds, no rumbling. But a lot of energy is pent up back there. There’s no telling what’s next.”

Mount Merapi, which translates as “Fire Mountain”, has erupted many times over the last 200 years, often with deadly results. In 1994, 60 people were killed, while in 1930, more than a dozen villages were incinerated, leaving up to 1,300 dead.

More than 11,000 people live on its fertile slopes. Though thousands of them fled to emergency shelters after Tuesday’s eruption, many defied warnings and started returning today.

“We’ll do everything we can to stop them,” said Hadi Purnomo, the district chief in Sleman, describing several villages south of the crater as ’death zones’. “There’s no life there. The trees, farms, houses are scorched. Everything is covered in heavy gray ash.”

Several other areas, however, were virtually untouched.

“I keep thinking about what’s happening up there,” said Hadi Sumarmo, who has a farm in Srumbung, a village three miles from the cone. “I just want to go back to check. If I hear sirens, I’ll get out again quickly.”

Aris Triyono, of the national search and rescue agency, said his teams were scouring the southern slope of the mountain, which has been pounded by rocks and debris, in search of victims and survivors.

Marno, an officer at the Sardjito hospital’s mortuary said 28 people have been killed. More than a dozen others are in hospital, with burns, respiratory problems and other injuries.

Among the dead was Maridjan, an 83-year-old man who had been entrusted by a highly respected late king to watch over the volcano’s spirits.

“We found his body,” said Suseno, a member of the search and rescue team, amid reports that the old man was found in the position of praying, kneeling face-down on the floor.

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