Indonesian volcano claims another 35 lives

RANDUSARI, Indonesia (AFP) – At least 35 people were killed and dozens injured Friday when Indonesia's Mount Merapi volcano erupted again, burning villages as far as 18 kilometres (11 miles) away, officials said.

The latest deaths bring the total toll to more than 70 since the country's most active volcano started erupting on October 26.

A view from a domestic flight from Denpasar to Yogyakarta (AFP)

"The death toll has risen to 35," said a spokesman for Sarjito general hospital in Yogyakarta, which is south of the volcano in central Java island.

Many of the dead were believed to be children from Argomulyo village, 18 kilometres from the crater of the volcano, according to accounts of the destruction from emergency response officials.

"Argomulyo village has been burned down to the ground by the heat clouds. Many children have died there. When I was in the village the ground was still hot," Yogyakarta police force medic Teguh Dwi Santosa told AFP.

Dozens of people are receiving treatment for burn injuries and respiratory problems due to the volcanic ash, hospital sources said.

Ash, deadly heat clouds and molten debris were seen gushing from the mouth of the 2,914-metre (9,616-foot) mountain and shooting high into the sky, posing a threat to passing aviation.

Government volcanologist Surono said Friday's blasts were the largest yet.

"This is the biggest eruption so far. The heat clouds went down the slopes as far as 13 kilometres and the explosion was heard as far as 20 kilometres away," he said.

The exclusion zone was widened from 15 to 20 kilometres around the mountain and everyone living in the area was ordered to evacuate their homes and shelters immediately, he said.

Indonesia's transport ministry has told pilots to stay at least 12 kilometres away from the rumbling volcano and several flights linking central Java to Singapore and Malaysia have been cancelled this week.

Officials said the number of people at safety shelters rose past 100,000 from 75,000 on Wednesday, when the official exclusion zone was widened from 10 to 15 kilometres around the volcano.

"The emergency shelters are now overcrowded," emergency response field coordinator Widi Sutikno said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited people displaced by the volcano on Wednesday as the disaster-prone country struggles to cope with dual natural disasters following a tsunami off Sumatra on October 25.

The three-metre wave smashed into villages on the remote Mentawai island chain following a 7.7-magnitude earthquake off the coast, killing 428 people and leaving 15,000 homeless.

Another 74 people remain missing, feared dead.

Bad weather and poor communications on the undeveloped islands -- a legendary destination for foreign surfers -- have hampered efforts to bring food, shelter and medicine to the affected areas.

"We have to use rubber boats to reach isolated villages. We even have to swim to bring the boat over coral reefs," Indonesian Red Cross spokeswoman Fitriana Sidika said Wednesday.

She said survivors were suffering from infections to untreated wounds, respiratory problems and malaria.

Three New Zealand yachtsmen who had not been heard from since the tsunami turned up safe and sound, their families said Friday.

The Indonesian archipelago has dozens of active volcanoes and straddles major tectonic fault lines from the Indian to the Pacific oceans. The 2004 Asian tsunami killed almost 170,000 people in Indonesia alone.

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