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Flights into Indonesia canceled over fears of volcanic ash

A victim of the Mount Merapi eruption is treated at a hospital in Yogyakarta on Saturday.

Associated Press

A victim of the Mount Merapi eruption is treated at a hospital in Yogyakarta on Saturday.

MOUNT MERAPI, Indonesia — International airlines fearful of volcanic ash canceled flights Saturday into Indonesia's capital, while the closure of airports nearest Mount Merapi delayed the arrival of burn cream and ventilators for those whose skin and lungs were singed by searing gases. The series of eruptions, the deadliest in decades, has killed 138 people.

Just days before President Barack Obama's visit to Indonesia, international carriers canceled flights to the capital, Jakarta, over concerns about the volcano, 280 miles away.

"The volcanic ash presence in the airways surrounding Jakarta could cause severe damage to our aircraft and engines which could impair the safety of our operations including passengers and crew," said Azharuddin Osman, director of operations for Malaysia Airlines.

Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa and Etihad Airways also temporarily suspended flights, taking the national disaster international. Flights to Frankfurt, Abu Dhabi, Tokyo and Hong Kong, as well as many regional destinations, were among those affected.

Domestic flights were running normally, with the exception of those going to airports near the volcano.

With the deaths of at least 94 people, Friday was Merapi's deadliest day in decades. More than 200 others were injured with burns, respiratory problems, broken bones and cuts, leaving the tiny hospital of Sardjito — the most sophisticated in the area — overwhelmed.

In the hospital's only burn unit, one patient lay mummified in thick, white bandages from neck to toe, his face a patchwork of black and ashen splotches. He never blinked his milky gray eyes. The only sign of life was the shallow rising and falling of his chest.

He had little company: Of the 31 burn victims taken to Sardjito hospital, at the foot of the volcano, the burn unit has room for just nine. Of those, only eight get a ventilator.

With nearby airports closed because of poor visibility, hospital officials said lots of supplies — including burn cream, oxygen masks and saline solution for IVs — were stuck in Jakarta. Dr. Ishandono Dahlan said he needed at least four more ventilators to protect the delicate, inflamed lung tissue of patients from the ash hanging in the air. In the meantime, nursing students were pumping emergency respirators — normally only used in short ambulance trips — by hand.

Merapi unleashed nearly two billion cubic feet of gas, rocks and ash Friday that raced down its slopes at highway speeds, mowing down a slope-side village and leaving a trail of charred corpses in its path. Photos taken by a disaster management team afterward showed bodies frozen in their last moments, covered in a thick charcoal-like ash. Several showed bodies welded together, as mothers and fathers clutched their children.

The volcano continued to rumble and groan Saturday, at times spitting ash up to five miles in the air, dusting windshields, rooftops and leaves on trees hundreds of miles away.

Flights into Indonesia canceled over fears of volcanic ash 11/07/10 [Last modified: Sunday, November 7, 2010 12:03am]

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