MOUNT MERAPI, Indonesia — A deadly surge of blistering gases cascaded down the slopes of Indonesia's most volatile volcano today, torching houses in one mountainside village and triggering a chaotic midnight evacuation. At least 12 people were killed in the inferno and 50 others injured.
Men with ash-covered faces streamed down Mount Merapi on motorcycles and women and crying children packed into trucks, as officials announced over loudspeakers that they were again expanding the volcano's "danger zone."
Even staff at the mountain's main monitoring post were told to move farther from the glowing crater.
Mount Merapi, which means "Fire Mountain," has killed 56 people since bursting back to life Oct. 26.
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Though scientists earlier expressed hope dozens of big explosions in the last week would ease pressure building up behind a magma dome high up in the crater, eruptions today appeared to be intensifying.
"We have no idea what to expect now," said Surono, a state expert on volcanoes, adding that he has never seen the needle on Merapi's seismograph working with such intensity.
Towering clouds of ash shot from the crater with a thunder-like roar on Thursday morning, sending soot 20,000 feet into the air and dusting towns up to 150 miles away.
Just before midnight, Merapi unleashed a deadly surge of searing ash, gases and rock fragments. Known as pyroclastic flows, such clouds race down the slopes at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.
Though more than 75,000 people living along Merapi's fertile slopes have been evacuated to crowded emergency shelters, many by force, others are reluctant to leave their livestock and homes.
It is not clear how many people were in the village of Bronggang, nine miles from the crater, when the heat cloud hit.
Waluyo Raharjo, a search and rescue official, was on the scene as at least 12 bodies were pulled from burned homes. Soldiers helped load the corpses into vehicles, delivering them to a hospital morgue.