Merapi Ground Heat Halts Searches

Indonesian rescue workers were forced to abandon efforts to retrieve bodies of victims from the Nov. 5 eruption of Mount Merapi in central Java, as increasing ground temperature and volcanic instability made it unsafe to continue.

Rescuers had been using wooden boards to walk on in areas where the soil reached temperatures higher than 70 degrees Celsius, Oka Hamid, a spokesman at Red Cross Indonesia’s Yogyakarta branch, said today.

“We found five bodies at Glagaharjo village, but only one was removed,” Hamid said by phone. “We are coming down now because the ground there is too hot and Merapi is unstable.”

Non-flammable boots and special gloves are needed to protect rescuers from hot burning soil, Hamid said.

“We need at least 30 pair of gloves and boots,” he said. “Non-flammable boots are important in case we need to flee if anything bad happened.”

The death toll since the volcano began erupting Oct. 26 rose to 141 from 135 yesterday, with about 280,000 people seeking shelter in evacuation centers outside the 20-kilometer safety zone from Mount Merapi, the National Disaster Management Agency said in a statement on its Web site today.

Merapi, which means mountain of fire, has been spewing hot ash clouds for two weeks, stretching rescue efforts as villagers defy safety orders to tend to their cattle stranded on the mountain’s slopes. The volcano may release hot ash for about two months, Subandriyo, an official at the Energy Ministry’s Volcanology and Geology Disaster Mitigation Center, said on Nov. 3.

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