updated 11/7/2010 1:04:12 AM ET 2010-11-07T06:04:12

Just days before President Barack Obama's long-awaited visit to Indonesia, international carriers canceled flights to the capital over concerns about a volcano spewing ash hundreds of miles away.

The notoriously volatile Mount Merapi unleashed nearly 2 billion cubic feet of gas, rocks and ash Friday — its most powerful eruption in a century.

Some 138 people have died on its slopes in the past two weeks, and authorities were still struggling Sunday to deal with those injured in the latest blast. The closure of smaller airports near the volcano has delayed the arrival of burn cream and ventilators for those whose skin and lungs were singed by searing gases.

    1. Castaway's parents thought they would never see him again

      The father of Pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga said he was told his long-lost son vanished on a fishing trip but he didn’t have the heart to break the news to his ailing wife.

    2. Scotland legalizes same-sex marriage
    3. Weapons deal strengthened Assad: US intel chief
    4. Outcry over the fate of Sochi's stray dogs
    5. Olympic construction leaves Sochi residents in the cold

Obama is scheduled to touch down in Jakarta on Tuesday as part of a 10-day Asian tour. Since taking office, Obama has already twice postponed visits to Indonesia — the world's most populous Muslim nation, where he spent four years as a child.

Paul Belmont, a U.S. Embassy spokesman, said there has been no talk yet of canceling.

"But certainly, if the situation evolves into something like what we saw in Europe not long ago (when the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokul forced closed airports for a week) it's something we'd have to take seriously," Belmont told The Associated Press on Sunday.

Video: Death toll soars from Indonesian volcano (on this page)

Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa and most other international carriers on Saturday announced they had temporarily halted flights to the capital, 280 miles west of Merapi.

"The volcanic ash presence in the airways surrounding Jakarta could cause severe damage to our aircraft and engines which could impair safety," said Azharuddin Osman, director of operations for Malaysia Airlines.

Merapi's latest round of eruptions began Oct. 26, followed by more than a dozen other powerful blasts and thousands of tremors.

The volcano continued to rumble and groan over the weekend, at times spitting ash up to five miles (eight kilometers) in the air, dusting windshields, rooftops and leaves on trees hundreds of miles (kilometers) away.

  1. Most popular

Indonesian officials were scrambling to deal with the aftermath of Friday's inferno, which left bodies of villagers frozen in their last moments, covered in a thick charcoal-like ash. Several photos taken by disaster management officials showed corpses welded together, as mothers and fathers clutched their children.

The blast killed more 90 people and injured 200, said Sigit Priohutomo, a senior official at Sardjito hospital, where some patients were admitted with burns covering up to 95 percent of their bodies.

The tiny hospital at the foot of the mountain has the only burn unit in area. But with just nine beds, it's been forced to turn away all but the most severe cases.

Slideshow: Indonesian eruption (on this page)

With nearby airports closed because of poor visibility, hospital officials said lots of supplies — burn cream, oxygen masks and saline solution for IVs — were stuck in Jakarta.

Doctors said at least four patients still desperately needed ventilators, which protect scorched and inflamed lung tissue from ash still hanging in the air.

Until the machines arrive, nursing students were pumping emergency respirators — normally only used in short ambulance trips — by hand.

Conditions were also grim at emergency shelters in the shadow of the volcano that were crammed with more than 200,000 people evacuated from the mountain.

With muddy floors and flies landing on the faces of sleeping refugees, many complained of poor sanitation, saying there were not enough toilets or clean drinking water.

  1. Only on NBCNews.com
    1. OWN via Getty Images
      From belief to betrayal: How America fell for Armstrong
    2. pool via Reuters file
      US to Syria neighbors: Be ready to act on WMDs
    3. China: One-child policy is here to stay
    4. NRA: Practice Range
      New 'Practice Range' shooter game says it’s from NRA
    5. 'Gifted' priest indicted in crystal meth case
    6. AFP - Getty Images
      China's state media admits to air pollution crisis
    7. AFP - Getty Images
      French to send 1,000 more troops to Mali

The Indonesian government, has put the city of Yogyakarta, 20 miles away, on high alert.

The biggest threat is the Code River, which flows into the city of 400,000 from the 9,700-foot mountain and could act as a conduit for deadly volcanic mudflows that form in heavy rains.

Racing at speeds of 60 mph, the molten lava, rocks and other debris, can destroy everything in their path. People living near the river's banks have been advised to stay away.

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

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Merapi’s eruption claims more lives

  1. Transcript of: Merapi’s eruption claims more lives

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: The president's Asian trip takes him to Indonesia early next week. That

    country has been suffering from a pair of deadly natural disasters: a devastating tsunami last month and the continuing eruption of the Mount Merapi volcano, which has killed more than 100 people and driven thousands from their homes. And now dangerous ash has brought air traffic in the region to a halt. NBC 's Keir Simmons reports.

    KEIR SIMMONS reporting: Even from a distance, its awesome beauty betrays a fearsome power. And this

    is the power of the Mount Merapi volcano close up: hot gas, rocks and debris torching houses and trees on Friday. More than 130 people have been killed, many more injured. Little wonder that now the danger zone around the volcano has been expanded to 20 miles. Already since its eruption 10 days ago, thousands have fled. People of all ages are crammed into shelters; those that can barely cope with such conditions and many who simply cannot cope at all. This stadium is designed to hold 10,000 people. The number here now is 36,000. They share 150 bathrooms.

    Unidentified Woman:

    SIMMONS: 'We don't have enough water,' this woman says.

    Unidentified Man:

    SIMMONS: 'It's scary,' says another. There are 200,000 people in shelters like this across the Indonesia region of Yogyakarta . They sleep wherever they can, and when they can they pray for better times. Already the small local hospitals are overwhelmed with those suffering breathing problems, burns and broken bones. Many of their communities are coated in a poisonous ash, streets from which soldiers have recovered bodies. It will be months before those who survived can recover their lives and livelihoods. The local airport is closed, and even in the capital Jakarta several international airlines have suspended flights.

    Professor JOANN STOCK (Cal Tech): The bigger the ash cloud gets, the more potential there is for a lot of material to come out of the ash cloud , either falling out slowly or catastrophically flowing at speeds that, you know, a human can't outrun, and neither can a motor vehicle. If this eruption gets bigger, it could get quite bad.

    SIMMONS: President Obama is expected in Jakarta from Tuesday, but officials say he will be a long way from the exclusion zone . Many thousands wait to see if that zone is wide enough to protect them from nature's fury. Keir Simmons ,

Photos: Volcano erupts

loading photos...
  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.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

    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:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  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

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments