Thursday, April 20, 2006

Indonesian volcano may threaten Aussies

AN Indonesian city that is home to dozens of Australians is bracing for an eruption from a volcano that killed more than 60 people the last time it blew.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has warned Australians to stay away from MtMerapi, a 2914m peak overlooking the central Javanese city of Yogyakarta, after Indonesian authorities upgraded its eruption alert status last week.

The mountain is popular for climbing but in recent weeks has spewed sulphur clouds hundreds of metres in the air and its peak has expanded in size by several metres.

Seismic activity has risen markedly. Volcano monitor Subandrio said that indicated magma was close to the surface.

During Merapi's last major eruption, in 1994, more than 60 people died, most from steam clouds accompanying lava flows.

In the past decade, hundreds of Australian students have attended Yogyakarta's Gadjah Mada University. Australian diplomats, aid workers and others also live in the city.

A spokeswoman for the Australian universities consortium that sends students to Gadjah Mada, Lestari Widiastuti, said yesterday that some of the 42 Australian students in the city had been keen to climb Merapi over the weekend despite an official ban, but she had dissuaded them. "It's not just the lava but also the hot ash in the air that can hurt you, and also the eruption can happen very suddenly," she said.

Farmers living on the mountain's upper slopes believe the best protection against eruptions is wearing a bamboo hat and throwing stones at the steam clouds, as well as lighting bamboo flares outside their houses.

"We've never had anyone (from our village) who was forced from their home or injured because of the steam," Walmi, 30, a farmer from the village of Paten, was quoted as saying in the national newspaper Kompas.

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