Reality Imitates Fiction

April 18, 2006?One of the world's most active but least known
volcanoes may be threatening a wave of destruction on the densely
populated Indonesian island of Java (see map).

The volcano, pictured here on April 15, is a 9,700-foot (2,900-meter)
peak whose barren cone rises above the island's lush tropical landscape.

Called Merapi, meaning "mountain of fire" in Javanese, the peak has
lived up to its name by erupting more than 60 times in the past 500
years. It's one of the most active of Indonesia's estimated 130 active

It's also a particularly dangerous one, says Lee Siebert, a
volcanologist with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

"A lot of people live and work right on the flanks of the volcano
itself," Siebert said.

The mountain occasionally produces explosive eruptions, but more
commonly its growing lava domes collapse in searing avalanches of hot
rock and gas that sweep down into populated areas.

The last of these cataclysmic avalanches?known as pyroclastic
flows?occurred in 1994, killing several dozen people. A bigger
eruption in 1930 killed 1,369 people, according to the Indonesian

"Merapi has probably had more pyroclastic flows than just about any
other mountain on Earth," said Carolyn Driedger, a hydrologist at the
Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Washington.

?Richard A. Lovett