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Indonesia volcano emissions spread,intensity drops

Written by: Staff

YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia, June 7 (Reuters) Hot gas and lava from Indonesia's Mount Merapi is flowing in more directions and 3,000 villagers have been evacuated from its slopes so far, but volcanic activity is decreasing, officials said today.

''The overall situation is improving,'' said Brigadier-General Pramono Edhie Wibowo, a senior official at the national coordinating body for disaster management.

''After the quake, Merapi is showing the tendency of slowing down, although it has not returned to pre-quake level,'' the army general told Reuters.

The volcano, on Indonesia's main island of Java and about 450 km (280 miles) east of the capital Jakarta, has spewed heat clouds and burning lava sporadically for weeks.

Following the May 27 earthquake which devastated large parts of the nearby city of Yogyakarta, killing 5,782, activity at Merapi increased and many thought it was close to a major eruption.

The government centre observing the country's most active volcano said today that a lava dome formed more than a decade ago had collapsed.

''(The dome) collapsed on June 4, broadening the routes of the hot gas cloud. While the height of the smoke is higher, the frequency of the hot gas clouds has gone down and its stretch is shorter,'' said Triyani from the Centre of Vulcanological Research and Technology Development.

Some vulcanologists fear more lava domes could collapse, triggering a massive outpouring of lava and gas.

''The government has no plans yet to lift the evacuation order.

We must stay alert,'' said Wibowo, who is the brother-in-law of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

''The no-go zone will remain at a 7-km range from the peak.'' Most villages in Merapi's danger zone are just north of Yogyakarta, which is still struggling to meet the emergency needs of tens of thousands of quake survivors south of the city, many living in makeshift shelters after their homes were destroyed.

''They (villagers) have heard ceaseless rumbling. They clearly know the impact of the earthquake in Yogyakarta,'' said Edi Purwanto, who manages evacuation efforts in Central Java's Magelang regency.

Yogyakarta's emergency officials said they were ready to handle another disaster if necessary.

''We are prepared for the worst. The army is ready, the hospitals are ready. It will not be a problem since many quake patients have left hospitals,'' said Wibowo, who spent most of his military career in the army's Kopassus special forces.

Many international aid organisations and foreign military medics are still in Yogyakarta treating quake victims.

Mount Merapi, which killed more than 60 people in 1994 and 1,300 in a 1930 eruption, was placed on top alert status on May 13, prompting an evacuation wave from the danger zone.

However, when days passed without the feared eruption, thousands of residents returned to their homes.


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