INDONESIA: Search and rescue continues for Merapi survivors

NGEPRINGAN, 9 November 2010 (IRIN) - Search and rescue workers continue to comb an ash-covered 20km area around Mt Merapi in Indonesia's Central Java region, collecting corpses and transporting survivors to medical care.

Samadi, 37, fled with his family shortly after midnight on 5 November from Ngepringan village, 15km from the summit, when an explosive midnight eruption sent hot ash flowing down the nearby Gendol river.

They left behind his 85-year-old grandmother. "She was too frail to move quickly, so we had to leave. I have been coming back every day to feed her until we could safely remove her," said Samadi, who like many Indonesians goes by only one name.

He guided military search and rescue workers on 8 November to his home to carry her out on a stretcher. "She is not well enough to be in a displaced person's site, so we will look for a home where she can be cared for," said Samadi.

There are more than 90 sites where some 320,000 persons are seeking shelter, mostly in Sleman district, according to the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), which has updates every six hours on its website.

Numbers vary as people register at one site, but then reunite with family in another, according to volunteers staffing the camps.

"We found three other survivors alive today [8 November], but they were older and did not want to leave," said Beny Angga, a soldier who was helping to evacuate people. "We cannot force them to leave so we left them."

"The old people will risk death over displacement," said Antono Prasatanto, the leader of a 250-volunteer government search and rescue team from Yogyakarta, 30km from Mt Merapi.

Ngepringan is located within a 15km ring from the summit that the government had already evacuated on 3 November, two days before the eruption that sent thousands more fleeing.

"The deaths you read about are not caused by the volcano, but are people who did not follow orders to evacuate," said volcanologist and head of the government's Centre for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation, Surono, who issues volcano danger alerts and decides how large an area to evacuate. [ ]

There have been at least 150 recorded deaths linked to volcanic eruptions since 25 October as of 9 November, according to the government.