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Caritas distributes aid as Indonesian volcano erupts

Warning sounds as Java's Mount Merapi spews steam, ash clouds

Caritas distributes aid as Indonesian volcano erupts

Mount Merapi erupts on May 11 sending a giant ash cloud 6,000 meters into the sky. (Photo by Father Martinus Sutomo/Caritas of Semarang Archdiocese)

Church social action arm Caritas has rushed to distribute thousands of face-masks and provide eye drops to people living in Indonesia's Semarang Archdiocese following a series of volcanic eruptions.

Considered one of Indonesia's most active volcanoes, Mount Merapi, in central Java, has seen at least nine eruptions over the last month, sending steam and ash clouds 6,000 meters into the sky, seriously affecting air quality for thousands of people.

The last eruption of the 2,930-meter volcano occurred May 24.

As of May 28, a three-kilometer exclusion zone around the mountain had yet to be lifted.

Father Martinus Sutomo, deputy director of the local Caritas branch, said at least 15,000 masks and eye drops had been distributed to those living in the volcano's vicinity and who had complained of the air quality and irritation to people's eyes as a result of the ash.

"We will continue to distribute them until the alert status returns to normal," he told ucanews.com.

Distribution of the aid was carried out with the cooperation of 11 parishes in the archdiocese, including St. Mary of Lourdes Parish in Magelang district.  

Tarsisius Sugiono, a parish volunteer, said his parish established four distribution pints.

"We have given out masks and eye drops to school students and to people living in dozens of villages within a 6-kilometre radius of Mount Merapi," he said.

Poniyem, a 59-year-old Catholic woman, said the recent flurry of volcanic activity brought back haunting memories of a deadly eruption in 2010.

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"I was forced to take refuge for a whole month," she said.

In October 2010, Mount Merapi erupted, killing at least 198 people and injuring thousands. More than 300,000 people were forced to evacuate.

Meanwhile, disaster mitigation authorities have warned local people to remain on alert since there was a high chance a more powerful eruption could occur at any time.

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