Indonesia’s Mount Merapi volcano erupted with renewed ferocity on Friday, killing another 54 people and blanketing the surrounding area with ash.
Ten days of eruptions have now killed nearly 100 people and forced the evacuation of more than 75,000.
Mount Merapi, on the outskirts of Yogyakarta city in Central Java, began spewing deadly clouds of ash and superheated gas last week.
Rizal, a forensic doctor from Yogyakarta’s police identification unit told Metro TV that 54 badly burnt bodies had been brought to Yogyakarta’s Sardjito hospital on Friday.
“It is possible the death toll will rise as we continue to search for victims,” said Rizal, who, like many Indonesians, uses only one name.
Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the director of disaster risk reduction at the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, said at least 66 people had been injured by the fresh eruptions, bringing the total number of injured to 185.
A column of ash billowed at least 4 km (2.5 miles) above the crater of Mount Merapi as worried authorities evacuated villages within a 20 km radius of the volcano, said the country’s top vulcanologist, Surono.
“It’s much worse than in the past. We cannot predict its behaviour,” he said.
A Reuters photographer near the volcano said he saw blackened bodies being carried into Sardjito hospital on Friday morning.
“Their clothes had melted onto their skin,” he said.
The air in Yogyakarta is now so thick with ash that motorists must drive with their headlights on during the day, he said. “We can’t see anything, it’s very dark. The trees are all white with ash,” he said. “It’s like it’s raining sand.” Indonesia is also struggling with the aftermath of a tsunami in the remote Mentawai islands off Sumatra last week that killed at least 431.
(Additional reporting by Fitri Wulandari and Telly Nathalia; Writing by Sunanda Creagh, Editing by Andrew Marshall)