MOUNT MERAPI, Indonesia — One by one the bodies of dozens killed by Indonesia's most volatile volcano — some too charred to ever be identified — were placed into a mass grave Sunday, as people terrified that another eruption was coming fled the city at the foot of Mount Merapi.
As relatives wept and men recited traditional Islamic prayers, villagers and police officers unloaded the corpses — some in plain wooden coffins, others still in the morgue's yellow body bags — from ambulances. They were placed into a massive trench, dug into a large green field in the shadow of the volcano, which has claimed 138 lives in the past two weeks.
The notoriously unpredictable mountain unleashed its most powerful eruption in a century on Friday, sending hot clouds of gas, rocks and debris avalanching down its slopes at highway speeds, smothering entire villages and leaving a trail of charred corpses in its path.
Concerns over the ash it spewed prompted international airlines to cancel flights to the capital of Jakarta just days before President Barack Obama's planned trip to Indonesia — his second stop in a 10-day Asian tour.
With more than 90 killed, Friday was the deadliest day at Merapi since 1930.
Islam mandates the dead be buried quickly, so authorities gave relatives three days to identify their loved ones. To speed up the process, most families chose to have their relatives interred in a mass grave — a common practice in Indonesia following a disaster. About 30 bodies were taken by relatives to be buried elsewhere.
Those that were identified were put in plain wooden coffins and slipped into the ground. Those that were not claimed were buried in their body bags.
Merapi, meanwhile, showed no signs of tiring Sunday, sending out thunderous claps as it shot ash up to 4 miles into the air, dusting windshields and rooftops hundreds of miles away. The ash hung so thickly in the air that breathing became painful and clothes stunk of smoke after any time spent outdoors.
The Indonesian government put Yogyakarta, a city of 400,000 people 20 miles from Merapi, on high alert.