Merapi eruptions slowing down but still deadly

Mount Merapi volcano continued spewing hot gas ash but not as violently as before. But the death toll continues to climb as people succumb to their injuries.

Mount Merapi spews volcanic material as seen from Argomulyo, Indonesia, Friday, Nov. 12, 2010.(AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

The Jakarta Globe now puts the toll at 240 lives:

Indonesia’s Mount Merapi volcano has killed 240 people since it began erupting late last month, with more than 390,000 people in makeshift camps, an official said. That figure continues to rise as people with severe burns die from their wounds and officials count those who have died from respiratory problems, heart attacks and other illnesses related to the blasts.

In addition, search operations continue for bodies buried under a thick layer of ash that shrouds whole villages. On Friday, soldiers pulled eight more bodies from around one hard-hit village, said Waluyo Rahardjo, who works for the search and rescue agency.

The Associated Press reports:

Ash has continuously shot out of the crater since it roared to life Oct. 26, occasionally canceling international flights into and out of Jakarta, hundreds of miles (kilometers) to the volcano’s west. After the output slowed overnight, an advisory from the Volcanic Ash Advisory Center in Darwin, Australia, showed the ash patch was well clear of the capital. The airport in Yogyakarta, at the foot of the mountain, however, remained closed.

Officials warned residents that less ash does not mean the volcano is finished.

“The activity of Merapi is still high, but the intensity of eruptions is reducing now. But people still should be careful. Merapi is still on high alert,” said Surano, a state volcanologist who uses only one name.

While officials struggle to persuade hundreds of thousands of people who live on the volcano’s fertile slopes not to return to their homes, a new kind of evacuee has been seen in recent days. Villagers checking on their homes and crops have seen Javan leopards — who live in a national park near the crater — heading down the mountain.

The cats likely feel the continuing tremors, said Tri Prasetyo, who runs the park, and are seeking safer ground. It’s also possible that prey is scarce in areas scorched by searing gases.

Aceng , a Java leopard, released back into the wild. Credit IAR

The Javan leopard — a subspecies of the cat only found on the island of Java — is critically endangered, with no more than 250 left in the wild. Some put the total population as low as 50.

Joko Tirtono, the manager of a zoo in Yogyakarta, said zoo keepers are now searching villages where the leopards have been spotted and laying traps in which they hope to capture the cats alive.

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