Indonesia Death Toll Hits 94

Sunday, February 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Landslides and floods triggered by torrential rain have killed at least 94 people during the past week in West Java province, local government officials said Sunday.

The worst-hit area was Lebak district, about 60 miles south of Jakarta, where a series of land and mudslides killed 62 villagers. Some died when a gold mine collapsed Friday.

Blocked roads and bad weather have hampered efforts to retrieve some of the bodies, said Eri Rachmat, a district official. He said some remained buried under tons of earth.

Some of the victims drowned when they tried to cross flooded streams.

Torrential rain lashed parts of the main island of Java last week causing extensive flooding, including in the capital Jakarta, where hundreds of houses were evacuated.

Elsewhere in Indonesia, hundreds of residents ignored warnings from scientists Sunday and returned to their farms on the slopes of Mount Merapi as Indonesia's most active volcano continued to spew hot ash and lava.

The 9,794-foot-high peak had been rumbling for weeks, but activity rose dramatically on Saturday and prompted hundreds of villagers on its vulnerable western slopes to flee to makeshift evacuation centers.

Many spent Saturday night in local schools. But almost all went back to their homes by morning, even though volcanologists said a major eruption could occur at any time.

Thousands of others had stayed in their homes despite the scientists' warning.

``The villagers are in a very dangerous situation because the mountain is so unpredictable,'' said Syamsul Rizal, the head of a scientific team watching the volcano.

Rizal said of major concern was the buildup of about 35 million cubic feet of lava at Merapi's summit. If it collapses, it could send more rivers of molten rock down the mountain's slopes and release hot and poisonous gas clouds.

``The people have gone back to their villages to look after farm animals and crops,'' said Hadi Sunarto, a local emergency coordinator. ``What they don't understand is that these clouds move very fast and sometimes there is no time to escape.''

In 1994, 66 people were burned to death by a searing ash cloud that engulfed a farming village. In 1930, about 1,300 people were killed when Merapi erupted.

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.

Indonesia has 500 volcanoes, more than any other nation, and at least 129 are considered active.