Image: Search and rescue team looks for victims in Central Java province
Sigit Pamungkas  /  Reuters
A search and rescue team looks for victims at Wukirsari village in Sleman district in the Indonesian Central Java province Sunday, Nov. 7. Mount Merapi volcano belched ash and toxic fumes into the atmosphere, but local authorities played down the threat to aircraft just two days before President Barack Obama was due to fly in.
msnbc.com news services
updated 11/8/2010 7:02:47 AM ET 2010-11-08T12:02:47

Frightened residents in a bustling city of 400,000 at the foot of Indonesia's rumbling volcano headed out of town Monday, cramming onto trains and buses and even rented vehicles to seek refuge with family and friends far away.

Images of a mass burial for many of the 141 people killed in the last two weeks served as a reminder of the mountain's fury.

"My parents have been calling ... saying 'You have to get out of there! You have to come home!'" said Linda Ervana, a 21-year-old history student who was waiting with friends at a train station in the university town of Yogyakarta, 20 miles from Mount Merapi.

After failing to get tickets, they finally decided to rent a minibus with other classmates.

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"It feels like that movie '2012,'" said her 22-year-old friend, Paulina Setin. "Like a disaster in a movie."

The notoriously unpredictable mountain unleashed its most powerful eruption in a century Friday, sending hot clouds of gas, rocks and debris avalanching down its slopes at highway speeds, smothering entire villages and leaving a trail of charred corpses in its path.

Concerns over the risk posed by ash lingering in the air prompted many international airlines to cancel flights to the capital, Jakarta, just days before President Barack Obama's planned trip to Indonesia — his second stop in a 10-day Asian tour.

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All were back in the air Monday and White House officials said Obama was still scheduled to touch down on Tuesday.

Hot toxic gases
Indonesia's disaster agency said clouds of hot toxic gases continued to roll down the slopes of Merapi on Monday, hampering efforts to create a 12-mile exclusion zone around the summit.

Video: Mount Merapi eruption forces no-fly zone (on this page)

The country is also struggling with the aftermath of a tsunami in the remote Mentawai islands off Sumatra last week that killed at least 445 people.

Metro TV footage showed an aerial view of Borobudur, site of one of the world's largest Buddhist temples and a UNESCO heritage site about 50 km northwest of the volcano coated with ash.

Dozens of flights to and from the capital Jakarta, around 375 miles from the volcano, were canceled over the weekend after the volcano belched fresh clouds of volcanic ash 19,000 feet into the atmosphere.

Indonesian authorities saying conditions were safe, but international airlines scrapped scores of flights.

By Monday afternoon normal service had mostly resumed, though Filipino budget airline Cebu Air Inc said it had canceled its 9.30 p.m. (6:30 ET) flight to Jakarta.

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"All have returned to normal," said Andang Santoso, a spokesman for the operator of Jakarta's Sukarno-Hatta airport. "They trust us that there is no impact of Merapi here, so they can fly here."

Authorities did, however, order the closure of the airport at Yogyakarta, the historic cultural city closest to the volcano.

"Since the weather is impossible ... we decided to close Yogyakarta for both commercial and civil aircrafts," said Harjoso Tjandra, operational and technical director at the airport.

Mass grave
Mount Merapi, one of the world's most active volcanoes, has erupted many times in the last century, killing more than 1,400. But Friday was the mountain's deadliest day since 1930, with nearly 100 lives lost.

Islam mandates that the dead be buried quickly, so authorities gave relatives three days to identify their loved ones. To speed up the process, most families chose to have their relatives interred in a mass grave — a common practice in Indonesia following a disaster.

Achmad Ibrahim  /  AP
Villagers gather at the grave of the victims of Mount Merapi eruption for a mass burial at Sleman, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Sunday, Nov. 7.

One by one the bodies — some too charred to be identified — were lowered into a massive trench, dug into a large green field in the shadow of the volcano. Some were in plain wooden coffins, others still in the morgue's yellow body bags.

Merapi, meanwhile, showed few signs of tiring Monday, sending out thunderous claps as it shot clouds of gas and debris high into the air.

The Indonesian government has put Yogyakarta on high alert.

The ash hung so thickly that breathing became painful and clothes stunk of smoke after any time spent outdoors, and the city's airport was closed yet again on Monday.

Though there have been no orders to evacuate, many residents decided to go on their own. They were seen packing up their homes and piling into cars and motorcycles.

"What choice do we have?" asked Sukirno, 37, as he sped away with his wife and their 8-year-old daughter, saying he worried about the effect of the ash on their health.

Deadly volcanic mudflows
The biggest threat to the city, experts say, is not searing gas clouds, but the Code River, which flows right into the city's heart from the 9,700-foot mountain.

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It could act as a conduit for deadly volcanic mudflows that form in heavy rains, racing at speeds of up to 60 mph and destroying everything in their path. A thick, black volcanic sludge has already inundated one city neighborhood that starts at the river bank and climbs a hillside.

In Romomangun, the mud burst the banks and poured into buildings.

It has filled a path that runs along the river — which is usually about three feet below a retaining wall but is now even with it. The sludge also rushed into a small, one-room building on the bank that houses a public bathroom. The top of the entry door is now at waist level.

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

The National Disaster Management Agency said the overall death toll from the volcano climbed from 138 to 141 on Monday after search and rescue teams found more bodies on the mountain.

Nearly 280,000 people — many of whom normally live on the fertile slopes of the volcano — have jammed into emergency shelters. Many have complained of poor sanitation, saying there were not enough toilets or clean drinking water.

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.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Mount Merapi eruption forces no-fly zone

  1. Transcript of: Mount Merapi eruption forces no-fly zone

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: about that now. Indonesia is eager to play host to the president, who lived in that country for several years when he was a boy. But for Indonesians in harm's way from that big volcano, the president's schedule is the least of their concerns. NBC 's Keir Simmons in London has the story for us.

    KEIR SIMMONS reporting: It's name, Mount Merapi , roughly translates as "mountain of fire," a name it is most surely living up to this weekend. The most active volcano in the region, this is its most violent eruption in 100 years. And tonight, more international flights have been canceled, even at Jakarta airport , 280 miles away . Rescuers are now reaching the communities hit by its deadly blast, with

    heat of up to 800 degrees. This village......is some eight miles from the summit. Covered in a thick white ash , it is a ghost town. They search for survives, banging on the doors of houses, but only the dead are left. Some are so badly burned they will never be identified. Those who escaped with their lives still overwhelm the hospitals. This young man was with five families when they were caught by the burning ash that at times was traveling at 60 miles per hour . And now these survivors live with the threats of further eruptions because experts say there is no way of knowing how the volcano will behave next.

    Professor JOANN STOCK (Cal Tech): Each explosion will release a little bit of pressure, but it may not actually be enough to stop the pressure that's building up at depth. So it's, I think, hard to predict whether it's going to stop or not.

    SIMMONS: Tonight many of those killed were buried in a mass grave, some in coffins, others simply in yellow body bags. Tears for loved ones who barely stood a chance. Some victims were found burnt even as they tried to run, as whole communities wait to see when they will escape the threat from this deadly volcano and be able to breathe again. Keir Simmons , NBC News, London.

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

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