Volcanologists warn eruptions could continue for weeks.
Bernard Smith reports on Indonesian hospitals struggling to cope with a flood of volcano victims.
Rescue workers in Indonesia are continuing to pick through the remains of whole villages destroyed by the country’s Mount Merapi volcano, which has so far claimed the lives of 81 people since Friday.
Rescuers redoubled their efforts on Saturday, switching their focus to helping the 200,000 people who have been forced to leave their homes following the eruptions.
Thousands have taken shelter in makeshift government camps.
Salman al-Farisi, from the Indonesian embassy in Washington DC, told Al Jazeera: “The relief effort now is more about the medicine, food, blankets and something like communication which is very important to give information from one relief centre to another.”
A day earlier Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the president, declared the situation a “national disaster”.
Yudhoyono said that his government would take “extraordinary measures” to respond to the ongoing crisis, after the country’s most volatile volcano erupted for a second time, spewing clouds of deadly gasses.
|Carcases of livestock and ruined crops were left in the wake of the eruptions [AFP]|
Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen, reporting from the capital, Jakarta, said: “The president has gone again to the region and has set up office to co-ordinate the relief effort from the foot of the volcano. He has sent 2,000 military personnel to oversee the evacuation process.
“With so many people the needs are getting higher and higher. There is a lot of pressure on the government to ask for international help.
It’s a matter of national pride so far, I think, that they haven’t done that.”
Argomulyo village, 18km from the crater, suffered one of the worst casualty rates, according to emergency response officials. Several children under the age of 10 were killed.
Carcases of livestock and ruined crops were left in the wake of the eruptions, with sheets of ash covering anything that remained.
“I found three bodies. A child, mother and father, still in their bed. They must have been sleeping when the hot ash struck their house,” Utha, a rescue worker, told the AFP news agency.
Friday’s blast wounded at least 156 people, according to a government spokesperson, most of them suffering burn injuries.
‘Hard to predict’
Millions of people live in the vicinity of the volcano, in what is one of the most densely populated regions in Indonesia.
|The volcano first erupted on October 26 [AFP]|
The increasingly violent activity defied initial predictions from volcanologists that the first eruption on October 26 would ease pressure inside the mountain.
The gas pressure inside the mountain is reportedly increasing and experts fear a much bigger eruption might be next.
“It is very hard to predict in the first place what the Merapi is doing as well, it is the most unpredictable volcano in Indonesia. But this pattern that we’ve seen now in recent weeks is totally different from what we’ve seen ever in the past,” Al Jazeera’s correspondent said.
Merapi last erupted in 2006, when it sent an avalanche of pyroclastic ash – hot gases and rock fragments – racing down the mountain and killing two people.
A similar eruption in 1994 killed 60 people, while 1,300 people died in an eruption in 1930.
There are more than 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia, which are spread across 17,500 islands.
The country is prone to eruptions and earthquakes due to its location within the so-called Ring of Fire – a series of fault lines stretching from the western Hemisphere through Japan and Southeast Asia.