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Death toll rises in Indonesia as volcano continues to rumble

From Andy Saputra, CNN
  • The president is directing relief in Yogyakarta
  • Some flights have been canceled in Jakarta
  • The ash cloud that hit a village was 450-600 degrees Celsius
  • About 120 people have died since Mount Merapi started erupting on October 26

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Jakarta, Indonesia (CNN) -- Deaths in Indonesia mounted on Saturday from the volcanic eruption spewing scorching ash and gas, and the country's leader is stationed near the scene to coordinate relief efforts.

At least 81 people are now dead after the powerful Friday eruption at Mount Merapi, in Central Java, bringing the total number of deaths to about 120 people since the volcano began erupting October 26, hospital officials said.

Friday's flare-up is being called Merapi's largest so far, unleashing ash clouds and gas that have reached villages in areas many thought were safe from the volcano's eruptions.

Volcanic ash has also hindered air travels with delays, cancellations and altered flight paths. International airlines have canceled at least 50 flights on Saturday from the capital, Jakarta, about 280 miles away from the volcano.

People flee Mount Merapi's fury
Sky blanketed with ash by 'Ring of Fire'
Volcanic activity in Indonesia

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has temporarily moved to the nearby big city of Yogyakarta to help direct relief operations.

"Our burn unit has been working overtime to handle the volcano's victims," Banu Hermawan, a spokesman for Dr. Sardjito Hospital in Yogyakarta. "The forensic team is also working hard to identified bodies with severe burns."

Another hospital official said only 11 people have been identified because many of the victims were severely burned.

Yudhoyono has instructed the military to assist relief efforts by building facilities and field hospitals in the area. He has also ordered the Coordinating Ministry for People's Welfare, which oversees several ministries, to coordinate faster and more efficient relief.

The president announced that residents will receive compensation for livelihoods and animals lost to the eruptions. The government will buy endangered cows on the volcano, he said. Many of those who live on its slopes raise cattle and risked their lives by staying or returning to feed their cows.

The children's charity Plan International has launched an appeal to help 20,000 people fleeing the mountain.

"People were fleeing in panic and only have what they could carry," said Nono Sumarsono, acting country director of Plan International, said Friday.

He said there is an urgent need for food, water, mats, blankets and hygiene kits -- items that the group is already distributing. Workers are also in the process of getting emergency latrines and setting up temporary schools for children.

Mathias Eick, regional information officer with the European Commission's humanitarian aid department, said Friday that many residents were expecting a minor outbreak, but the eruptions had become much worse.

Lava balls have rained down on villages and houses have burned, Eick said. Streets and cars are covered in ash, and people are wearing face masks.

"This is a major humanitarian crisis," he said.

Merapi continues to spill hot ash cloud and rumbles consistently, according to data from the Indonesian Volcanology Technology Development and Assessment Agency.

The data also indicates the hot ash cloud that hit a village near the crater was around 450-600 degrees Celsius (842-1,112 degrees Fahrenheit).

The 3,000-meter (9,800-foot) Merapi is famously unpredictable. An eruption killed two people in 2006 and another killed more than 60 villagers in 1994. About 1,300 people died when Merapi erupted in 1930.

In addition, last week a 7.7-magnitude earthquake hit Indonesia's coast, triggering a tsunami and killing at least 449 people. Hundreds more were injured.

CNN's Kathy Quiano and Joe Sterling contributed to this report.