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Emerging from hell, the dust-caked and bloodied survivors of Mount Merapi's worst eruption yet

By Mail Foreign Service:

* Death toll reaches 122 as authorities extend danger zone
* 'There was an explosion that sounded like it was from a war... and it got worse, the ash and debris raining down.'

Horror scenes greeted rescuers arriving at villages near Mount Merapi after the Indonesian volcano's worst eruption in a century last night sent the death toll soaring to 122.

Searing gas avalanched down the mountainside with a thunderous roar, torching houses and trees and incinerating villagers as they fled.

The injured - with clothes, blankets and even mattresses fused to their skin by temperatures reaching 750C - were carried away on stretchers following the first big explosion just before midnight.

Soldiers joined rescue operations in hardest-hit Bronggang, a village nine miles from the crater, pulling at least 78 bodies from homes and streets blanketed by ash up to one-foot deep.

Crumpled roofs, charred carcasses of cattle, and broken chairs - all layered in white soot - dotted the smoldering landscape.

The volcano, in the heart of densely populated Java island, has erupted scores of times, killing more than 1,500 people in the last century alone. But tens of thousands of people live on its rolling slopes, drawn to soil made fertile by molten lava and volcanic debris.

Its latest activity started nearly two weeks ago. After Friday's explosion - said by volcanologists to be the biggest since the 1870s - officials announced by loudspeaker that the mountain's danger zone had been expanded to 12 miles.

Previously, villages like Bronggang were still considered to be in the 'safe zone'.

'The heat surrounded us and there was white smoke everywhere,' said Niti Raharjo, 47, who was thrown from his motorbike along with his 19-year-old son while trying to flee.

'I saw people running, screaming in the dark, women so scared they fell unconscious,' he said from a hospital where they were both being treated for burns.

'There was an explosion that sounded like it was from a war... and it got worse, the ash and debris raining down.'

The greatest danger posed by Merapi has always been pyroclastic flows - like those that roared down the southern slopes at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.

With bodies found in front of houses and in streets, it appeared that many of the villagers died from the searing gas while trying to escape, said Col. Tjiptono, a deputy police chief.

More than 150 injured people - most with burns and some with respiratory problems, broken bones and cuts - waited to be treated at the tiny Sardjito hospital, where the bodies piled up in the morgue, and two other hospitals.

'We're totally overwhelmed here,' said Heru Nogroho, a spokesman at Sardjito.

A total of 1,765 million cubic feet of volcanic material has been released.

More than 100,000 people living along Merapi's fertile slopes have been evacuated to crowded emergency shelters, many by force, in the last week. Some return to their villages during lulls in activity, however, to tend to their livestock.

They were told to stay away on Friday.

Even scientists from Merapi's monitoring station were told they had to pack up and move down the mountain. They were scrambling to repair four of their five seismographs destroyed by the heavy soot showers.

Before Friday, the death toll from Merapi stood at 44, with most dying in the first blast on October 26. With the new deaths around the village of Bronggang it climbed to 122, the National Disaster Management Agency said.

In 1994, 60 people were killed by Merapi, while in 1930, more than a dozen villages were torched, leaving up to 1,300 dead.

Click to view image: 'Seeking help: Rescuers arrive with injured childre'

Added: Nov-6-2010 Occurred On: Nov-6-2010
By: gmccuiston
Tags: Mount Merapi's, worst eruption
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