Mountain Rumbling, Villagers Returning

An Indonesian woman watches as Mount Merapi is enveloped in a huge cloud of hot gas in Cangkringan village early Friday June 9, 2006, outside Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
The same government trucks that hastily hauled villagers from the slopes of Indonesia's rumbling Mount Merapi carried them back on Friday, as poor farmers judged losing their livelihood to be a greater risk than losing their lives.

"If I stay at a shelter, who will care for my animals?" said Adi Wiyono, 45. "I am afraid, but they are the source of my life, my family depends on them."

Supriyatun, 30, agreed, saying she had no choice but to go back.

"I must milk my goats and sell it to survive," she said.

Indonesia's most dangerous mountain has been venting steam and debris for more than a month, and on Thursday spit billowing gray clouds of hot ash 3 1/2 miles down the slope, the largest burst yet.

map of Mount Merapi
Thousands of people who had refused to heed earlier evacuation orders fled, some jumping into rivers to escape the searing heat and others sprinting down the mountain or speeding off in cars and trucks.

The volcano appeared calmer Friday, though a local monitoring station tallied 63 lava bursts and nine small gas emissions. Ash continued to rain on villages, covering crops and rooftops in a thin layer of gray soot, the official Antara news agency reported.

Merapi's lava dome has swelled, raising concerns that it could suddenly collapse and send scalding clouds of fast-moving gas, rocks and debris into still-populated areas. Hundreds of aftershocks, including a 3.5-magnitude temblor Friday, added to those worries.

"The trend seems to be that the volcanic activity is increasing," said Dr. Antonius Ratdomopurbo, an Indonesian volcanologist who monitors the peak. He added, though, there "is no reason for people to be overly concerned" at present.

Some scientists say a massive May 27 earthquake that killed more than 5,700 people in an area 25 miles south of Merapi may have contributed to the restive mountain's volatility in recent weeks.

  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for