MOUNT MERAPI, Indonesia – Rescuers digging through several feet (a meter) of ash discovered nine more bodies on the slopes of Mount Merapi, whose explosive eruption a week ago buried whole villages. As confirmation of more deaths trickled in Sunday, the toll from a series of blasts at the Indonesian volcano rose to at least 250.
The mountain, which has let off blasts of hot gas clouds over the past two days, resumed spewing ash on Sunday as it as done continuously since it roared to life Oct. 26. No new deaths have been reported from the latest flows, which were well within the zone that has been evacuated.
That zone — which has been at 12 miles (20 kilometers) for more than a week — was relaxed Sunday in some areas. In districts on the north and west flanks of the mountain, the cordon is now six miles (10 kilometers) from the crater, according to Muhammad Anshori, an official with the National Disaster Management Agency. He said the change reflected a feeling that these areas were safer.
Though there has been no major eruption since Nov. 5 — the deadliest day at Merapi in decades — tallying the dead from that blast has been slow.
Many villages where officials knew people had died have remained too hot — shrouded in drifts of ash several feet (a meter) deep — for rescuers to work. Conditions have improved in the past few days, pushing the death toll from the devastating eruption higher, said Waluyo Rahardjo, a search and rescue official.
Four bodies were pulled from the mountain Saturday and another five on Sunday, said Heru Trisna Nugraha, a spokesman for Sardjito hospital, at the foot of the volcano. In addition, one person in the blast died at the hospital, Negraha said.
The disaster agency's official toll stood at 242 on Sunday, but the spokesman said that figure did not include at least eight of the 10 latest deaths because the data had not yet been officially passed on.
Merapi is the most active in Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 235 million people that is prone to seismic activity because it sits along the Pacific "Ring of Fire," a horseshoe-shaped string of faults that lines the Pacific Ocean.
Associated Press writer Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta contributed to this report.