Dozens Die In New Mount Merapi Eruption In Indonesia

(AP)

At least 54 people have been killed in the latest eruption of Indonesia's Mount Merapi volcano - more than doubling the death toll since it became active again last week.

Dozens are being treated for burns and respiratory problems after a gas cloud hit villages with even greater force than the previous eruptions.

Almost 100 people are now said to have been killed.

An estimated 75,000 residents have been evacuated from the area.

Mount Merapi, one of the world's most active volcanoes, is located in a densely populated area in central Java.

The latest eruption began late on Thursday, sending residents streaming down the mountain with ash-covered faces.

Rescue workers said villages in the area were in flames.

Many of the dead are believed to be children from Argomulyo village, 18km (11 miles) from the crater.

Local hospital spokesman Heru Nugroho said 54 bodies had been brought in on Friday. More than 66 others were injured, many of them critically with burns.

"We're totally overwhelmed here," he told the Associated Press news agency.

Rescuer Utha told AFP news agency: "I found three bodies - a child, mother and father, still on their bed. They must have been sleeping when the hot ash struck their house... We also found a dead man with a phone still on his hand."

Volcanologists Surono told AFP: "This is the biggest eruption so far. The heatclouds went down the slopes as far as 13km (eight miles) and the explosion was heard as far as 20 kilometres away."

The authorities have decided to widen the "danger zone" around the crater from 15 km (9 miles) to 20km (12 miles).

A rescue official told the BBC some of the casualties could have been avoided if residents had stayed away from the danger zone.

Scientists are warning of further eruptions in the coming weeks.