Image: Mount Merapi erupts
AP
Mount Merapi spews massive clouds of ash behind Prambanan temple in Klaten, Indonesia, on Wednesday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 11/10/2010 1:06:58 PM ET 2010-11-10T18:06:58

The threat from a deadly volcano that hastened the departure of U.S. President Barack Obama from Indonesia on Wednesday would not be downgraded as it is still rumbling, authorities said.

Indonesia's most volatile volcano spewed clouds of ash high into the sky Wednesday, forcing some international airlines to again cancel flights.

The official death toll, meanwhile, climbed by more than 40 to 191. Disaster officials said earlier figures had not included people who died of respiratory problems, heart attacks and other illnesses linked to the fiery mountain.

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Mount Merapi, located in the heart of Java island, roared back to life two weeks ago, shooting searing clouds of gray soot and debris up to four miles into the air almost daily, with lava and rock cascading down its slopes.

More than 350,000 people have been evacuated to cramped emergency shelters.

"Although the eruptions are less frequent, that doesn't mean that the activities have slowed, so we are keeping the status at the highest alert," said Surono, the head of the country's vulcanology agency. Intense tremors were still being detected, forcing authorities to maintain a high alert status and a 12-mile exclusion zone from the summit.

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Obama sliced several hours off his whirlwind 24-hour tour to Indonesia over concerns about the volcanic ash, which has been carried by westerly winds toward the capital, Jakarta. He flew to South Korea for the Group of 20 summit.

Airline safety, evacuations
Safety concerns also prompted several international carriers to again cancel flights into and out of Jakarta, 270 miles from Merapi, said Syaiful Bahri, who oversees operations at the airport.

Among them were Cathay Pacific, Value Air and Qantas.

The eruptions have hampered sugar crushing on Java island, an agriculture ministry official said on Wednesday, but were unlikely to affect output as the season was nearly at an end.

Merapi has erupted many times in the last century, killing more than 1,400. On Friday, it experienced its most explosive blast in more than a century. At least one yet-to-be evacuated village was incinerated, setting on fire houses, trees and fleeing residents.

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Muhammad Anshori, a disaster official, said Wednesday the official death toll since the first eruption on Oct. 26 had climbed to 191 — up from 153 earlier in the day.

Another 600 have been hospitalized, some with burns covering 95 percent of their body.

More than 340,000 people living along its slopes and villages near the base have been evacuated, he said. They are now living in more than 80 government camps. Many complain about poor sanitation, saying the toilets and water are filthy.

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.

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
  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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  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

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.

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