Toll from volatile Indonesian volcano rises to 240

Rescuers pulled more bodies from a village smothered a week ago by searing gases from Indonesia's most volatile volcano as more people succumbed to their burns, raising the death toll Saturday to 240.

Mount Merapi shot out more hot clouds Friday evening, though no new deaths were reported from those flows, which slid as far as six miles (10 kilometers) from the crater. The mountain has continuously spewed ash — and occasionally torrents of rock, gas and lava in dramatic eruptions — since it roared to life Oct. 26 after years of dormancy.

The volcano 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.

The National Disaster Management Agency reported Saturday on its website that the toll from more than two weeks of eruptions at Merapi had risen from 206 to 240.

That figure continues to rise as people with severe burns die from their wounds and officials count those who have died from respiratory problems, heart attacks and other illnesses related to the blasts.

In addition, search operations continue for bodies buried under a thick layer of ash that shrouds whole villages. On Friday, soldiers pulled eight more bodies from around one hard-hit village, said Waluyo Rahardjo, who works for the search and rescue agency.

As the volcano spews ash in fits and starts, officials are struggling to persuade people to stay in evacuation centers and away from their homes and farms on the mountain's slopes.

On Friday afternoon, some villagers who were returning to check on crops spotted a new kind of evacuee: rare leopards heading down from a national park near the crater.

"I was shocked and afraid that they will pounce on me ... so I ran as fast as possible," said Ahmad Sokidi, whose house is six miles (10 kilometers) from the summit.

The Javan leopards likely feel the continuing tremors, said Tri Prasetyo, who runs the park, and are seeking safer ground. It's also possible that prey is scarce in areas scorched by searing gases.

The cats — a subspecies only found on the island of Java — are critically endangered, with no more than 250 left in the wild. Some put the total population as low as 50.


Associated Press writer Ali Kotarumalos contributed to this report from Jakarta.