Homes Set Ablaze By Volcanic Ash

Up to 98 people are feared dead after Indonesia’s Mount Merapi volcano sent searing clouds of ash down its slopes, setting several village houses ablaze.

Hospital workers said a three-year-old girl was among 11 people killed and more than 50 others were injured when the ash hit Bronggang, a village nine miles (15km) from the volcano’s crater.

Men, women and children with ash-covered faces streamed down Merapi on motorbikes and trucks as officials announced they were expanding the volcano’s danger zone.

Even staff at the mountain’s main monitoring post were told to move further away from the glowing crater.

The latest explosion fired white clouds 20,000ft (6,000m) into the sky.

Gusts later carried the smoke westward, dusting roof tops and trees up to 150 miles away (250km) with thick white powder.

Since Merapi first erupted on October 26 there have been more than a dozen other powerful blasts and thousands of volcanic tremors.

More than 75,000 people living along Merapi’s slopes have been evacuated to crowded emergency shelters far from the crater.

But some have refused to leave home while others have returned to their villages during periods of calm to check on their houses and livestock.

On Saturday, more than 2,000 troops had to be called in to force men, women and children to leave.

Merapi’s activity has intermittently forced nearby airports to close and the Transportation Ministry said flight paths near the mountain had been shut down for safety reasons.

However, officials insisted that a Qantas jetliner forced to make an emergency landing after one of its four engines failed over Batam, an island 800 miles (1,400km) away, was unrelated.

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