, KEPUHARJO, Nov 13 – Indonesia\’s most active volcano has claimed the lives of 240 people since it began erupting last month, sending almost 400,000 fleeing into makeshift camps, an official said Saturday.
The authorities have warned people living in the temporary shelters not to return to their homes as Mount Merapi, which lies at the centre of Java island, remained highly active and unpredictable.
"We don\’t know and cannot predict the next big eruptions, so refugees still have to stay in makeshift camps until further evaluations," government volcanologist Subandrio said.
"Merapi activity is still high and it still has an alert status."
A disaster management official said the death toll had now reached 240 after rescuers recovered more bodies from the disaster zone, while about 390,000 people have fled their homes.
Many of the dead were buried under fast-flowing torrents of boiling hot gas and rock that incinerated villages when the volcano exploded on November 5 in its biggest eruption in over a century.
Mount Merapi, a sacred landmark in Javanese tradition whose name translates as "Mountain of Fire", emitted more heat clouds late Friday for about an hour, reaching as far as 10 kilometres (six miles) away from the crater.
"It recently belched ash upward as high as 1,200 metres. Then the ash blew to the south and southwest of the volcano," Subandrio said.
The government has declared a danger zone that stretches as far as 20 kilometres from the volcano, which first started erupting in late October.
Subandrio said several Japanese volcanologists were in the area to assist in monitoring the volcano\’s activity and would be installing several "infrasonic sensors" that could monitor air pressure caused by the eruptions.
"The sensors will be placed around 20 kilometres away from the crater. These devices will improve our ability to observe Merapi\’s activity" Subandrio said.
The airport serving the nearest city of Yogyakarta, which lies around 25 kilometres south of the volcano — has been closed until Monday because of ash clouds.
Although there has been no report of volcanic ash clouding the area around Jakarta, 430 kilometres to the west, dozens of international flights were cancelled this week for safety reasons.
The ash also forced US President Barack Obama to cut short his trip to the sprawling archipelago on Wednesday.
Merapi killed around 1,300 people in 1930 but experts say the current eruptions are its biggest convulsions since 1872.