Image: Villagers sit at a temporary shelter after they were evacuated from their homes on the slope of Mount Merapi, in Pakem, Yogyakarta, Indonesia
AP
Villagers sit at a temporary shelter after they were evacuated from their homes on the slope of Mount Merapi, in Pakem, Yogyakarta, Indonesia on Tuesday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 10/27/2010 1:54:52 AM ET 2010-10-27T05:54:52

Rescuers scoured the slopes of Indonesia's most volatile volcano Wednesday after it was rocked by an eruption that spewed clouds of searing ash, killing at least 25 villagers including an old man known as the mountain's spiritual gatekeeper.

The blast eased pressure that had been building up behind a lava dome perched on the volcano's crater, but experts said the worst may not be over. The lava dome could unleash deadly gases and debris if it collapses.

"It's a little calmer today," said Surono, the chief of Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation. "No hot clouds, no rumbling. But a lot of energy is pent up back there. There's no telling what's next."

Mount Merapi, on the outskirts of the city of Yogyakarta on Java island, first erupted on Tuesday, a day after a tsunami pounded remote islands in western Indonesia, killing at least 113 people.

Authorities have been trying to evacuate more than 11,000 villagers living on the slopes of the volcano, where many houses have been destroyed, the ruins lying covered in white ash.

Endita Sri Andrianti, a spokeswoman for Yogyakarta's Sardjito hospital, said 25 people had been killed by deadly bursts of hot air released by the volcano late on Tuesday.

A baby, aged about two or three months, died as panicked villagers fled the area, hospital officials said. Three other villagers died from serious burns.

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"We are still collecting details to identify them. Most of them were burned to death," she told Reuters by phone, adding that 14 villagers had suffered burn injuries.

Though thousands streamed into makeshift emergency shelters after Tuesday's powerful eruption, many started returning Wednesday saying they had to tend to their crops and protect their homes.

Among the dead was Mount Merapi guardian Ki Suraso Hargo, also knows as Mbah Maridjan, in Kinahredjo Village. Maridjan, an 85-year-old man, was entrusted by a highly respected late king to watch over the volcano's spirits.

"We found his body," said Suseno, a member of the search and rescue team, amid reports that the old man was found in the position of praying, kneeling face-down on the floor.

Maridjan, who for years led ceremonies in which rice and flowers were thrown into the crater to appease spirits, has angered officials in the past by refusing to evacuate even during eruptions.

Also dead was Yuniawan Nugroho, an editor with the vivanews.com news portal, who was scheduled to interview Maridjan.

Many of victims had been found in or around his house in the village of Kinahredjo, close to the volcano's crater, local media reported. A Reuters cameraman at Kinahredjo said he saw burns victims being brought down from the mountain in body bags. Houses in the village had been destroyed.

"Several houses and cattle have been burned by the hot cloud from the mountain," he said. "All the houses are blanketed in ash, completely white. The leaves have been burned off the trees."

A.K. Hendratmo  /  AP
Mount Merapi spews volcanic smoke as seen from Balerante, Central Java, on Tuesday.

"There was a thunderous rumble that went on for ages, maybe 15 minutes," said Sukamto, a farmer who by nightfall had yet to abandon his home on the mountain's fertile slopes. "Then huge plumes of hot ash started shooting up into the air."

Clouds of smoke and ash obscured the peak of the mountain, making it impossible to see if lava had begun flowing.

The country' top vulcanologist, Surono, said Merapi was now "quite calm."

"There are no signs of another imminent eruption but I cannot guarantee anything and we don't know if this is just a temporary rest," Surono said.

"I have advised local officials to continue the evacuations. It's still on the highest alert level."

Interactive: Anatomy of a volcano

Indonesian news portal Okezone quoted the manager of Yogyakarta's Adisucipto International Airport as saying that flights had not been disrupted by the ash cloud.

Mount Merapi, which translates as "Fire Mountain," has erupted many times over the last 200 years, often with deadly results.

In a 1994 eruption after the volcano's lava dome collapsed, 70 people were killed. The volcano killed 1,300 people in 1930.

Last month, another Indonesian volcano, Mount Sinabung on Sumatra island to the west, erupted after lying dormant for 400 years, forcing a mass evacuation.

Meanwhile, off the coast of Sumatra, about 800 miles west of the volcano, rescuers battled rough seas to reach the remote Mentawai islands, where a 10-foot tsunami triggered by a 7.7-magnitude earthquake Monday night swept away hundreds of homes, killing at least 113 villagers, said Mujiharto of the Health Ministry's crisis center. Up to 500 others are missing.

Indonesia, an island archipelago of 237 million people, is prone to earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic activity due to its location on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire — a series of fault lines stretching from the Western Hemisphere through Japan and Southeast Asia.

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The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Photos: Volcano erupts

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  1. Mount Merapi volcano spews ash as a villager collects her valuables from the ruins of her house at Kali Tengah village in Sleman, near Yogyakarta on Monday, November 15, 2010. Mount Merapi volcano, on the outskirts of Yogyakarta city in central Java, began spewing searing hot gas and ash clouds more than two weeks ago, and has killed close to a hundred people, disrupted flights and displaced more than 320,000 people. (Sigit Pamungkas / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A man cleans the roof of his house from volcanic ash folllowing the eruption of Mount Merapi in Muntilan, Indonesia, on Nov. 15. (Slamet Riyadi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Volcanic ash from the Mount Merapi volcano covers a dead farm animal in the Indonesian village of Cangkringan on Nov. 14. (Clara Prima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A classroom of a school remains covered with volcanic ash due to the eruption of Mount Merapi in Cangkringan, Indonesia, on Nov. 14. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Workers clear volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Merapi volcano covering the Borobudur Temple in Muntilan of Indonesia's central Java province on November 13. (Sigit Pamungkas / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Mount Merapi volcano erupts, as seen from Mungkid village in Magelang in Indonesia's central Java province on Nov. 13. (Andry Prasetyo / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Indonesian army soldiers search for victims of the eruption of Mount Merapi in Cangkringan, Indonesia on Nov. 13. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Children play on used clothes which will be distributed to evacuees at a temporary shelter for those affected by the eruption of Mount Merapi in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on Nov. 10, 2010. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Indonesian soldiers search for victims killed in the eruption of Mount Merapi in Cangkringan, Indonesia, on Nov. 10, 2010. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Search and rescue team members from Yogyakarta carry a victim of Merapi volcano's eruption in Sleman on November 8, 2010. (Clara Prima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Motorists ride on a road covered with ash as Mount Merapi spews volcanic material into the air near Wukirsari, Indonesia, Monday, Nov. 8. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A farmer walks through his corn field covered in volcanic ash in Muntilan, Indonesia on, Nov. 8. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Muntilan, Magelang, in Indonesia, is covered with ash from Mount Merapi’s eruption, Nov. 8. International flights to Indonesia's capital Jakarta returned to normal Monday, officials said, a day ahead of a visit by US President Barack Obama. (Sonny Tumbelaka / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Volunteers rescue burned victims of the Mount Merapi eruption on Nov. 5 in Argomulyo village,which was devastated by deadly clouds of volcanic ash. (Susanto / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Lightning strikes as Mount Merapi erupts, spewing towering clouds of hot gas and debris, as seen from Ketep village in Indonesia's central Java province on Nov. 6. (Beawiharta / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. An elderly woman with injuries sustained from Mount Merapi's latest eruption arrives at Sarjito hospital in Yogyakarta Nov. 5. (Dwi Oblo / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A woman prays in a temporary shelter at Maguwoharjo Stadium in Yogyakarta, Nov. 5. (Beawiharta / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

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    Victims of Mount Merapi eruption lie covered in volcanic ash as rescuers search for others in a village that was hit by pyroclastic flow in Argomulyo, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Nov. 5. A deadly surge of blistering gases cascaded down the slopes of Indonesia's most volatile volcano Friday, torching houses in one mountainside village and triggering a chaotic midnight evacuation. (Gembong Nusantara / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Kitchen utensils are covered with volcanic ash in the village of Argomulyo on Nov. 5. (Clara Prima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. An Indonesian policeman pats a surviving monkey after the village was sweept by Mount Merapi's 'Wedus Gembel' hot gas clouds, Cangkringan, Indonesia on Nov. 5. (Adi Weda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A view from a domestic flight from Denpasar to Yogyakarta shows a plume of gas and ash billowing some six miles high from the Mount Merapi volcano during an eruption on November 4. Volcanologists said the "high intensity" eruption was the strongest yet from the 9,616-foot Mount Merapi. (Clara Prima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Residents flee on motorcycle under volcanic ash fall during evacuation from a village in Klaten district, Nov. 3, after Mount Merapi erupted. Indonesia's Mount Merapi volcano exploded in a frightening new eruption of lava and red-hot rocks Wednesday, sparking panic and forcing the government to order new evacuations. Scientists said the 9,616-foot mountain in central Java erupted with more force than last week's blasts that killed 36 people, spewing huge clouds of searing gas into the sky. (Farras / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. An Indonesian woman cries as volcano Merapi erupts in Klaten, Central Java, Indonesia, Nov. 3. Indonesia's Mount Merapi volcano erupted again with renewed strength in its fourth eruption in eight days, as most villagers had already evacuated the area. At least 38 people were killed when the volcano first erupted last week, and about 70,000 people fled to shelters. (Mohammad Ali / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Mount Merapi volcano spews smoke as seen from Sidorejo village in Klaten, near the ancient city of Yogyakarta, on Nov. 3. The latest eruption was the biggest yet, causing evacuees to move their shelters even further from the mountain. (Beawiharta / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Volcanic ash emits steam on a channel near the slope of Mount Merapi in the Sleman district on Nov. 3. (Sonny Tumbelaka / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A young boy looks out from a truck window as they evacuate Umbulharjo village to a safer place on Nov. 3. (Adi Weda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. People evacuate from Umbulharjo village, Sleman, Indonesia, as Mount Merapi erupts on Nov. 3. (Adi Weda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. People watch Mount Merapi spewing volcanic materials in Deles on Nov. 2. (Binsar Bakkara / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Residents of Balerante village prepare to flee, Nov. 1, as Mount Merapi spews smoke and ash. Indonesia's most active volcano claimed at least 36 lives the week before. (Adek Berry / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Villagers escorted by police carry a suspected looter caught in an abandoned village on Nov. 1 near Mount Merapi. (Arya Bima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. This cemetery in Kinah Rejo is seen covered with ash on Oct. 28. (Adek Berry / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Police officers and volunteers carry the coffin of a victim of the Mount Merapi eruption during a mass burial in Sleman on Oct. 28. (Beawiharta / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Volunteers search for victims of the Mount Merapi eruption at Kinahrejo village on Oct. 27. (Ulet Ifansasti / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Indonesian women weep after learning that their relatives were killed in the Mount Merapi eruption on Oct. 27. (Irwin Fedriansyah / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Volcanic ash covers the interior of a house in a village badly hit by the Mount Merapi eruption on Oct. 27. (Gembong Nusantara / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Residents displaced by the eruption of Mount Merapi queue for food in Sleman on Oct. 27. (Adek Berry / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. A rescuer visits a village hit by pyroclastic flows from the eruption of Mount Merapi on Oct. 27. (Trisnadi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. People in Kaliurang village run for safety after Mount Merapi erupted on Oct. 26. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono flew back from Hanoi, where he had been due to take part in a summit of Asian leaders, to oversee relief efforts for the Merapi eruption and Sumatra tsunami. (Beawiharta / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. The Mount Merapi volcano spews thick smoke on Oct. 26. (Clara Prima / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Mount Merapi volcano spews ash as a villager collects her valuables from the ruins of her house at Kali Tengah village in Sleman
    Sigit Pamungkas / Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (39) Indonesian eruption - Volcano erupts
  2. Image: Tsunami aftermath
    Mast Irham / EPA
    Slideshow (16) Indonesian eruption - Tsunami

Interactive: Mount Merapi

Video: Volcano eruption in Indonesia kills at least 18

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