Mud volcano in Indonesia to be blocked with giant concrete balls

Indonesian authorities will try to stem a gushing mud eruption Friday that has inundated villages and factories by dropping hundreds of giant concrete balls into a gouge in the earth, an official said.

Around a million oil drums of hot, noxious mud - equal to about 50 Olympic swimming pools - have flowed from the hole at a drilling site every day for the last nine months, forcing at least 11,000 people from their homes.

The chained cement balls, weighing up to 250 kilograms (550 pounds) each, will be dropped from a scaffolding into the so-called mud volcano from Friday, said Rudi Novrianto, a spokesman for a national task force handling the disaster.

If successful, they will decrease by up to 70 percent the volume of the mud now being channeled by a system of dams into a nearby river and out to sea.

Mud fissures are fairly common along volatile tectonic belts like that one running below Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago, known as the Pacific Ocean's "Ring of Fire" because of dozens of active fault lines and volcanoes.

Opinions differ about cause of the mudflow, the largest on record in Indonesia, but experts agree it could flow for years, the AP reports.

Some scientists suggest the rupture was triggered by faulty gas exploration techniques by operator PT Lapindo Brantas. Other research suggests it was the result of increased seismic activity following a major earthquake two days before the mud began flowing.

The government has said drilling PT Lapindo Brantas must pay about US$420 million (EUR 320 million) in damages, including US$276 million (EUR 210 million) to the victims, by March 2007.

Lapindo is a subsidiary of PT Energy Mega Persada Tbk, controlled by the family of Indonesian Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie. He has repeatedly claimed the geyser was sparked by a May 27 earthquake and that his company bears no financial liability.

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