Deaths as thousands flee Indonesia volcano Merapi

media captionThe BBC's Karishma Vaswani: "Evacuation an extremely difficult procedure"

At least 13 people have been killed in Indonesia after the country's most volatile volcano erupted.

Mount Merapi, in central Java, began erupting just before dusk on Tuesday, spewing plumes of hot ash and rocks.

Officials say the volcano victims, including a small baby, were killed by the heat and burning ash.

Thousands of people have been evacuated amid fears pressure building up beneath Merapi's lava dome could lead to one of the most powerful blasts in years.

But a further 13,000 people need to be evacuated from within a 10-mile (16km) radius of the volcano, officials say.

It is thought that 5,000 people live on or near the volcano.

'Severe burns'

Television footage showed thousands of people fleeing the area, some covered in the volcano's white ash which rained from the sky.

People with severe burns were seen being taken away on stretchers.

image captionPeople have been severely burned by the hot ash falling on them

An eyewitness said he went to help a family trapped in their home but could not reach them.

"I was 10 metres away from the family but couldn't get any closer because the ash was very hot, so we couldn't handle it," the Associated Press (AP) news agency quoted him as saying.

"To get out of the area, I had to hold on to trees to avoid the hot tarmac. That is why I survived, otherwise I don't think I would have made it."

Emergency teams have found at least 12 bodies in the area close to the mountain, local media report.

"There are likely to be more victims as the terrain is difficult, roads are damaged and trees uprooted, it's dark and the condition of the volcano is still unstable," said Yogyakarta search and rescue official Taufiq.

Meanwhile, a doctor at Muntilan hospital confirmed to Metro TV that a small baby had died there on Tuesday.

"The baby had severe breathing difficulties from inhaling volcanic materials and we could not help it," said Sasongko, who uses only one name.

Dr Adi Mulyo at Panti Nugroho hospital said 18 people were being treated there for severe burns - some were suffering burns to 90% of their bodies.

He said the hospital did not have enough equipment to treat all the injured, so some were being sent to a larger hospital in Sarjito.

Villagers stranded

Thousands of people living near the volcano have been ordered to move to safer ground, but many are still refusing to leave.

Some are refusing to heed the warnings because they do not want to leave their livestock and properties behind.

Ponco Sumarto, 65, who arrived at a makeshift camp with her two grandchildren, said her children had stayed behind to look after their crops.

"I just have to follow orders to take shelter here for safety, even though I'd rather stay at home," AP quoted her as saying.

The head of one village near the volcano said that many residents were stranded. He said rain loaded with volcanic ash had reduced visibility to just 5m (16ft).

"We are evacuating to the village square, around 14km from Mount Merapi slope. Some of the villagers are still stranded but we received text messages from them, saying that they are OK," Heri Suprapto told the BBC.

BBC Indonesia correspondent Karishma Vaswani says that for many Javanese, Mt Merapi is a sacred site.

Officials say some of the villagers are waiting for the local "gatekeeper" of the volcano to tell them that the increased activity at Mt Merapi is dangerous.

Described as a medicine man, he is believed by many villagers to have a spiritual connection to the volcano.

He has reportedly said he will not leave yet, but is urging villagers to make their way to government shelters, our correspondent says.

Pressure building

On Monday, officials monitoring the volcano raised the alert for Mount Merapi to the highest possible level.

Since then, more than 600 volcanic earthquakes have been recorded around the mountain.

"We heard three explosions around 1800 (1100 GMT) spewing volcanic material as high as 1.5km (one mile) and sending heat clouds down the slopes," government vulcanologist Surono told AFP news agency.

He warned that pressure was building up behind a lava dome near the crater.

"We hope it will release slowly," he said. "Otherwise, we're looking at a potentially huge eruption, bigger than anything we've seen in years."

He said this eruption was more powerful than the volcano's last blast, in 2006, which killed two people.

In 1930 another powerful eruption wiped out 13 villages, killing more than 1,000 people.

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