Indonesian volcano zone villagers ignore warnings

Farmers journeyed high up the slopes of erupting Mount Merapi on Wednesday collecting grass for cows, while children kicked soccer balls in the shadow of its glowing peak, all of them ignoring warnings to immediately leave the area.

Villagers living closest to the peak show little sign of fear, perhaps because obvious signs of volcanic activity have declined since Monday when clouds of poisonous gas and lava shot out of the mountain's western flank.

"There is nothing to worry about here," said Warkijho, a 55-year-old farmer who like many in his village deep within a government-ordered evacuation zone has refused to leave. "The scientists may be concerned, but in my heart I know it is safe."

The highest-status alert remained Wednesday for the 3,000-meter (9,800-foot) mountain at the heart of Java island, and scientists cautioned that a lull in activity did not mean the danger was over.

A 2.3 million cubic meter (3 million cubic yard) lava dome that has built up over the mountain's slow-burn eruption in recent weeks was still perched on the crater and could collapse, triggering a deadly surge in ash and gas, scientists said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Wednesday met with some of the more than 5,000 people who have fled the volcano and are staying in temporary accommodation such as converted schools. Yudhoyono and his wife stayed Tuesday night in a tent among the refugees.

Yudhoyono urged those still refusing to leave the evacuation zone to move to safety, reports the AP.


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