MOUNT MERAPI, INDONESIA // Indonesia's military forced villagers off the slopes of the country's most volatile volcano today as it unleashed a new powerful explosion that claimed another victim and temporarily shut down an airport. Officials warned it would be some time before life returns to normal.
Camouflaged troops stood guard in front of ash-covered homes and local television showed one woman who refused evacuation orders being pinned to a stretcher as she screamed and cried in protest.
Hundreds of kilometres to the west, aid workers were struggling to deliver food and other supplies to desperate survivors on islands hardest hit by a tsunami.
The twin catastrophes, striking earlier in the week at different ends of the seismically active country, together have killed at least 449 people with hundreds more missing, severely testing the government's emergency response network.
All but 36 of the deaths were in the tsunami zone, where more than 700 homes were destroyed by a towering wave Monday that left at least 23,000 people homeless, said Suryadi, a Crisis Center official.
Government agencies have been forced to pull back boats and helicopters that had been ferrying noodles, sardines and sleeping mats to the most distant corners of the Mentawai islands because of stormy weather and rough seas.
They were hoping for a break in the weather Saturday to airdrop boxes of aid from planes.
But on a borrowed 24-metre cruiser, a private group of aid workers - battling sheets of rain and miserable seasickness - succeeded yesterday in reaching some villages that had not received any help since the tsunami hit.
Dozens of injured survivors languished at an overwhelmed hospital today.
"We need doctors, specialists," nurse Anputra said at the tiny hospital in Pagai Utara - one of the four main islands in the Mentawai chain slammed by the tsunami, which was triggered by a 7.7-magnitude earthquake.
The death toll from the tsunami rose Saturday to 413 as officials found more bodies, and 163 people were still missing and feared swept out to sea, said Suryadi, the Crisis Center official.
On the country's main island of Java, meanwhile, the rumbling Mount Merapi volcano erupted once again early today, said Surono, chief of the Centre for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation.
Some villagers refused to leave their homes along the mountainside's fertile slopes, saying they wanted to check on their livestock and protect their homes, and the military was called in to help.
A 35-year-old woman died during a chaotic evacuation, bringing the death toll since the first big blast Tuesday to 36, the Indonesian Red Cross said.
Saturday's powerful 21-minute eruption briefly forced the closure of the airport in the nearby city of Yogyakarta, 20km south of the volcano.
"We were worried about visibility and thick dust that piled up on the south of the runway," said Naelendra, an airport official. "But things are back to normal now."
At least 47,000 people who live around Mount Merapi are staying in government camps or with friends and relatives, the National Disaster Management Agency said.
Officials earlier said the volcano's activity appeared to be easing pressure behind a lava dome that has formed in the crater, but Subandrio, who heads the nearby volcanology center, warned today the worst may be yet to come.
Magna forming in the crater appeared to be thickening and high-pressure gas was building up behind it, he said.