updated 2/23/2007 4:50:26 AM ET 2007-02-23T09:50:26

Indonesian authorities will drop hundreds of giant concrete balls into a fissure Friday to try to stem a gushing mud eruption that has inundated villages and factories, an official said.

The hot, noxious mud — enough to fill 50 Olympic-sized swimming pools — has flowed from the hole each day for the last nine months, forcing at least 11,000 people from their homes. Four villages and 25 factories have been buried under a 30-foot layer of mud.

The chained cement balls, weighing up to 550 pounds each, will be dropped from a scaffolding into the so-called mud volcano on the island of Java starting Friday, said Rudi Novrianto, a spokesman for a national task force handling the disaster.

If successful, the project will decrease by up to 70 percent the volume of the mud now being channeled by a system of dams into a nearby river and out to sea.

Mud fissures are fairly common along volatile tectonic belts like that one running below Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago.

Mud could flow for years
Opinions differ about the cause of the mudflow, the largest on record in Indonesia, but experts agree it could flow for years.

Some scientists suggest the rupture was triggered by faulty gas exploration techniques by operator PT Lapindo Brantas, which created fissures in a bed of porous limestone. Other research suggests it was the result of increased seismic activity following a major earthquake two days before the mud began flowing.

The government has said PT Lapindo Brantas must pay about $420 million in damages, including $276 million to the victims, by next month.

Lapindo is controlled by the family of Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie. He has repeatedly claimed the geyser was sparked by a May 27 earthquake and that his company bears no financial liability.

An attempt last year to channel the mud to the sea triggered an explosion that killed 13 people when a natural gas pipeline cracked under the weight of a dam.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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