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Merapi Ground Heat Forces Indonesia to Halt Search for Bodies

Mount Merapi erupting again on Monday. (AFP Photo/Bay Ismoyo)

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November 08, 2010. Indonesia (KATAKAMI – THE JAKARTA GLOBE) — Indonesian rescue workers were forced to abandon efforts to retrieve bodies of victims from the Nov. 5 eruption of Mount Merapi in central Java, as increasing ground temperature and volcanic instability made it unsafe to continue.

Rescuers had been using wooden boards to walk on in areas where the soil reached temperatures higher than 70 degrees Celsius, Oka Hamid, a spokesman at Red Cross Indonesia’s Yogyakarta branch, said today.

“We found five bodies at Glagaharjo village, but only one was removed,” Hamid said by phone. “We are coming down now because the ground there is too hot and Merapi is unstable.”

Non-flammable boots and special gloves are needed to protect rescuers from hot burning soil, Hamid said.

“We need at least 30 pair of gloves and boots,” he said. “Non-flammable boots are important in case we need to flee if anything bad happened.”

The death toll since the volcano began erupting Oct. 26 rose to 141 from 135 yesterday, with about 280,000 people seeking shelter in evacuation centers outside the 20-kilometer safety zone from Mount Merapi, the National Disaster Management Agency said in a statement on its Web site today.

Merapi, which means mountain of fire, has been spewing hot ash clouds for two weeks, stretching rescue efforts as villagers defy safety orders to tend to their cattle stranded on the mountain’s slopes. The volcano may release hot ash for about two months, Subandriyo, an official at the Energy Ministry’s Volcanology and Geology Disaster Mitigation Center, said on Nov. 3.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono returned to Jakarta today, ahead of United States President Barrack Obama visit on Nov. 9-10, after spending two days in Yogyakarta to directly overseeing Merapi relief efforts.

Obama is scheduled to fly to Jakarta from India tomorrow, for a brief trip to the world’s largest majority-Muslim country, where he spent part of his childhood.

“The Embassy fully expects President Obama to arrive on Nov. 9 as scheduled,” Paul T. Belmont, press attaché at the United States Embassy in Jakarta, said in an e-mailed statement today. “The Merapi eruptions have not altered his plan to visit Indonesia.”

At least nine airlines including Singapore Airlines Ltd., Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. and Japan Airlines Corp. resumed services yesterday after suspending them for one day for safety reasons due to volcanic ash from Merapi, Frans Yosef, an officer at Angkasa Pura II, the operator of Soekarno-Hatta international airport, said on Sunday.

Philippine Airlines Inc., Emirates, Eva Airways Corp. and Valuair Ltd. resumed services to Jakarta today, the operator said on its Web site today.


Bloomberg

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