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As Indonesian Volcano Death Toll Grows, Evacuees Are Leaving Shelters


Man walks by destroyed farm school covered with volcanic ashes from eruption of Mount Merapi in Cangkringan, Indonesia, 14 Nov. 2010

Man walks by destroyed farm school covered with volcanic ashes from eruption of Mount Merapi in Cangkringan, Indonesia, 14 Nov. 2010

Rescue workers uncovered more bodies as blasts from volatile Mount Merapi eased in the past few days. The death toll now has reached more than 250 people.

Despite continued puffs of ash and debris, Indonesia's most active volcano has calmed enough for people to begin returning home to villages devastated by Merapi's last blast on November 5.

The work of digging out ash-covered homes has been slow, and victims buried in the eruption last week are only now being discovered. Others have died from burns received when scalding gas clouds roared through villages as far as 15 kilometers from Merapi's crater.

The government has reduced the evacuation cordon around the volcano from 20 kilometers to 10, easing some pressure on evacuation camps. Volcano monitors say the danger persists, but already officials are looking ahead to the recovery.

Officials say more than 350,000 people are still seeking refugee in shelters around the volcano, but more than 30,000 have packed up their belongings and headed back home to reclaim their lives in Merapi's shadow.

Sri Purnomo is the head of Sleman district, one of the hardest hit by the eruptions. He says the government plans to convert some areas around the volcano to a national park and will help with rebuilding efforts.

He says that if people go back to their land now, the government will help them fix their homes. But the government is also going to build people's respect and education, so that next time they will obey orders to evacuate.

Many people ignored evacuation orders, even as the eruptions grew more violent. Some believed the volcano's spiritual guardian would protect them from danger, while others returned home to check on the crops and livestock.

The government has been criticized for not enforcing evacuation orders more strongly.

Since Merapi began erupting on October 26 the government has raised the activity level on about 20 other volcanoes. It has put a high alert on at least three.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, which includes the western coasts of North and South America and the major island nations of Asia - Indonesia, the Philippines and Japan. The region is prone to severe earthquakes and is home to some of the most active volcanoes in the world.

Merapi's latest eruptions are its biggest in more than a century, though a blast in 1930 killed around 1,300 people.

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