Indonesians Evacuate As Volcano Rumbles

The Associated Press
Friday, April 21, 2006; 3:24 PM

MOUNT MERAPI, Indonesia -- More than 100 villagers evacuated areas closest to Indonesia's rumbling Mount Merapi on Friday, relenting to days of pressure from officials who warned the volcano could erupt in the next one to two weeks.

Most of those abandoning villages near the 9,700-foot peak _ women, children and the elderly _ said they were doing so reluctantly. Hundreds more refused, pledging to hold out a little longer.

"I'm worried about what life will be like in a temporary shelter," said 44-year-old Sriyanti, as she headed with her young daughter to the town of Tanjung Muntilan, 12 miles from Merapi on Indonesia's Java island.

Smoke and lava have been spewing from the volcano and sensors within the crater have detected a rise in seismic movement in recent weeks, leading scientists to say a major eruption is imminent.

Merapi last erupted in 1994, sending out a searing cloud of gas that burned 60 people to death. About 1,300 people were killed when it erupted in 1930.

Merapi lies about 18 miles from Yogyakarta, a city of 1 million people, and 250 miles southeast of the capital Jakarta.

Many people living around Merapi and the other 129 active volcanos in Indonesia believe that spirits watch over the peak and will warn them when a major eruption is imminent.

Although most Indonesians are Muslim, many also follow animist beliefs and worship ancient spirits. Often at full moons, people trek to crater rims and throw in rice, jewelry and live animals to appease the volcanoes.

Wihardo, a local official who has spent the last few days urging villagers to evacuate, said he was happy that some were finally listening.

"But others say they want to stay until they're confident it will erupt," said Wihardo, who like many Indonesians uses only one name. "We cannot force them to leave yet."

Indonesia sits astride the "Ring of Fire," a series of volcanoes and fault lines stretching from the Western Hemisphere through Japan and Southeast Asia to New Zealand. It has more active volcanoes than any other nation.

© 2006 The Associated Press