Villagers flee as volcano erupts


A volcano in Indonesia spewed a cloud of ash down its slopes today, prompting panic and among thousands of villagers who had taken advantage of a lull in activity to return home to check on their livestock.

Sirens and loudspeakers blared, and people jumped into rivers trying to escape the heat, while others ran down the mountain or sped off in cars and trucks, local disaster officials said.

It was not clear if there were any new casualties from today’s eruption, though an official said the ash cloud was not near populated areas.

Explosions from Mount Merapi, in central Java, have killed 38 people in the past week.

The new blast came as rescuers hundreds of miles away were finally able to resume food deliveries and evacuate injured victims of a tsunami triggered by a 7.7-magnitude earthquake near a chain of remote islands off western Sumatra.

The number of people killed in the twin catastrophes climbed to almost 500.

The mountain had been mostly quiet today after letting out its most powerful eruption of the week yesterday, sending lava oozing down its slopes, temporarily closing a nearby airport and claiming another life.

Despite the risk and warnings from officials, thousands of the more than 53,000 people who had been evacuated from the danger zone returned this morning to check on their livestock high up on the scorched slopes.

Indonesia, a vast island nation of 235 million people, straddles a series of fault lines and volcanoes known as the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.