Indonesia Vulcanologists Warn of Major Eruption

The volcano that looms above his village is spewing smoke and lava, and scientists warn it could erupt anytime. But like many people farming the fertile slopes of Mount Merapi, Ismail says there is no need to panic.

"Merapi is part of my life, as it is all of our lives around here," he said Tuesday, as the 9,700-foot mountain rumbled in the background. "We know nature, and we are not worrying."

Volcanologists watching Merapi, in the heart of densely populated Java island, disagree.

Aside from the visible signs of increased activity at its peak, sensors within the crater have detected a rise in seismic movement in recent weeks, and a major eruption is possible, they say.

Authorities have been ordered to prepare for the possible evacuation of the thousands of people who live close to Merapi, which last erupted in 1992, sending out a searing cloud of gas that burned 60 people to death. About 1,300 people were killed when it erupted in 1930.

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

More than 100 trucks are on standby to transport refugees, and emergency shelters have been prepared and stocked with food and medicine, Social Affairs Minister Bachtiar Chamsyah told reporters in Jakarta.

Many people living around Merapi and the other 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia — more than any other nation — 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.

"If animals start coming down from the top then that is a sign for me to leave," said Ngadio, a rice farmer in a village on the dangerous western slopes of the volcano. "Hot clouds will always follow the animals' descent."