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Flights cancelled over volcano fear

International airlines have cancelled flights into Indonesia's capital after a volcano hundreds of miles to the west unleashed its most powerful eruption in a century, incinerating villagers as they fled a searing gas cloud.

The number of people killed by Mount Merapi in the last two weeks has now climbed to 138, as a tiny hospital at the foot of the mountain struggled to cope with survivors - some of whom have burns on up to 95% of their bodies.

Indonesia's most volatile mountain unleashed a surge of searing gas, rocks and debris that raced down its slopes at high speed, mowing down the slope-side village of Bronggang and leaving a trail of death and destruction in its path.

It continues to rumble, at times spitting ash up to five miles in the air, dusting windshields, rooftops and leaves on trees hundreds of miles to the west.

Just days before US President Barack Obama's visit to Indonesia, international carriers cancelled 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.

Among the other carriers temporarily suspending flights were Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia. Domestic flights were unaffected.

The eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokul volcano in April forced the closure of most European airports for a week and led to the cancellation of more than 100,000 flights.

The Indonesian government, meanwhile, has expanded a "danger zone" to a ring 12 miles from the peak, bringing it to the edge of the ancient royal capital of Yogyakarta, which has been put on its highest alert.

The biggest threat is the Code River, which flows into the city of 400,000 from the 9,700ft mountain and could act as a conduit for deadly volcanic mudflows that form in heavy rains.

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