Image: Residents flee Mount Merapi volcano eruption
Mohammad Ali  /  EPA
Residents, many of them on motorcycles, escape the latest eruption of  Mount Merapi on Wednesday in Klaten, central Java, Indonesia.
msnbc.com news services
updated 11/3/2010 2:43:49 PM ET 2010-11-03T18:43:49

A deadly Indonesian volcano spewing lava and smoke for more than a week erupted Wednesday with its biggest blast yet, shooting searing ash miles into the air as soldiers hastily evacuated villages and emergency shelters.

Women screamed and children cried as they were loaded into trucks while rocks and debris rained from the sky. Several abandoned homes were set ablaze and the carcasses of incinerated cattle littered the scorched slopes.

No new casualties were reported immediately after the booming explosion, which lasted more than an hour.

"This is an extraordinary eruption, triple from the first" on Oct. 26, Surono, a state volcanologist, said.

More than 70,000 villagers have been evacuated from the 9,700-foot Mount Merapi's once-fertile slopes since it began erupting just over a week ago, killing 38 people and injuring dozens, most with severe burns.

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Almost all have packed into crowded camps well away from the base.

Djarot Nugroho, the head of Central Java's disaster management agency, said funding for the refugees would run out in five days unless a national disaster was declared.

There have been more than a dozen strong blasts in recent days — including a smaller one Wednesday morning — prompting some scientists earlier to say pressure building up behind a magma dome in the crater was slowly easing.

By nightfall, however, all bets were off.

"We have no idea what's happening now," said Surono, a state volcanologist and among those who had been predicting a drop in activity. "It looks like we may be entering an even worse stage now. ... It's up to Merapi from here."

The danger zone was widened from six miles to nine (10 kilometers to 15) from the glowing crater because of the heightened threat. Soldiers and police blocked all roads leading up the mountain, shooing away television crews and reporters.

"I (didn't) think of anything else except to save my wife and son. We left my house and everything," said Tentrem Wahono, 50, who lives in Kaliurang village, about six miles (10 kilometers) from the peak.

"I (didn't) think of anything else except to save my wife and son. We left my house and everything," said Tentrem Wahono, 50, who lives in Kaliurang village, about six miles from the peak.

Mount Merapi
Binsar Bakkara  /  AP
Lava glows at the crater of Mount Merapi in this photo from late Tuesday.

He and his family fled on a motorbike, "racing with the explosive sounds as the searing ash chased us from behind."

Authorities were forced to move refugee shelters further away from the volcano, near Yogyakarta on Java island, Surono said.

"This is the first time that the eruption has continued for more than an hour, so I decided to move the shelters to 15 km (about nine miles) away from the summit from 10 km (about six miles) away previously," he told Metro TV. "I hope the hot clouds will not reach 10 km from the crater."

Massive explosion?
There was a smaller eruption earlier Wednesday which sent gas and rocks about three miles down the mountain's slopes, Safari Dwiyono, a state volcanologist, said.

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Dwiyono believes the volcano will continue to send out gas and rocks for weeks, possibly months, easing pressure building up inside the crater.

"There's no way of knowing for sure, of course," he said. "But based on what we've seen in the last few days, we're hoping there won't be a massive explosion."

The latest eruption has raised Merapi's status to "crisis" condition, said Andi Arief, a special staff at the presidential office dealing with disaster and social assistance.

Merapi, one of the world's most active volcanoes, has erupted many times in the last century, killing more than 1,400 people.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 235 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanos because it sits along the Pacific "Ring of Fire," a horseshoe-shaped string of faults that lines the Pacific.

As a reminder of that, a 6.0-magnitude quake hit waters off the eastern province of Papua on Wednesday evening, rattling several villages but causing no known damage or casualties.

At the time, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was wrapping up a visit to Papua New Guinea — on the same island as Papua province. She was in the capital, about 1,000 miles east of the epicenter, and no shaking was felt there.

Merapi prompted the government Tuesday to order airlines to choose routes circumventing the towering dark ash on takeoff and landing.

Video: Smoke and ash hamper air travel in Indonesia

Several international flights have been canceled.

More than 800 miles to the west, helicopters and planes were delivering aid to the most distant Mentawai islands, where last week's tsunami destroyed hundreds of homes, schools, churches and mosques.

The tsunami death toll stood at 431, the National Disaster Management Agency said.

There has been talk in recent days about abandoning villages on vulnerable coastlines and relocating further inland.

"I'm all for it," said Regen, who lives on Pagai Utara island and goes by one name. "We're all terrified now, especially at night, and wouldn't mind moving further inland."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Indonesia volcano roars back to life

Interactive: Mount Merapi

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
  18. Editor's note:
    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
  1. Editor's note:
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  2. Editor's note:
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  3. Editor's note:
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  4. Editor's note:
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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

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