May 8, 2006After weeks of warning signs,
Indonesia's Merapi volcano began spewing molten lava and thick white
smoke late last week, signaling what may be the final stage before a
The 9,700-foot (2,900-meter) volcano looms over a fertile plain on the densely populated island of Java, 280 miles (450 kilometers) from the capital Jakarta (see map of Indonesia).
Scientists monitoring the volcano reported yesterday that a large dome of lava, formed by molten rock churning to the surface, is growing quickly at the peak, as shown in this photograph taken May 6.
Sixty-seven lava flows have been measured since Sunday night, some as long as 328 feet (100 meters) long, a volcanologist named Tryani told the AFP news agency. Scientists have also recorded pillars of smoke towering some 2,625 feet (800 meters) high.
These signs suggest that the volcano will erupt with heavy flows of lava and hot clouds of toxic gas, rather than in a single cataclysmic explosion, researchers said.
About 5,000 residents have fled their homes, but most of the 30,000 villagers nearby remain at home, unconvinced that an eruption is imminent.
Officials have not yet raised the alert level, which would make evacuations mandatory.
"We are still in the process of studying all scientific data that we have obtained before we can decide whether or not the alert status should be upgraded," Tryani told AFP.
Blake de Pastino
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