Believers Risk Volcanic Death

Scientists and Indonesian government officials have warned residents on the slopes of Mount Merapi to leave. The volcano has been spewing rocks, ash, and pyroclastic flows–superheated gases that incinerate on contact. Yet stubborn religious believers refuse to leave their homes.

An 80-year-old man appointed by the nearby royal court as the volcano’s spiritual guardian said he was not leaving, even though his house is within the mandatory evacuation zone. He said he believed the spirits that watch over the volcano would let him know if he was in danger.

"There is no risk," Maridjan said outside his home four miles from the crater. "I am still waiting here."

Maridjan was given the official title of "key holder of Mount Merapi" by the late king of the nearby court city, Jogjakarta. He leads yearly ceremonies when rice and flowers are thrown into the crater to appease spirits that he and most nearby villagers believe live over the mountain.

Maridjan’s refusal to leave is angering local authorities in charge of evacuation efforts. They say he is setting a bad example and stopping other villagers from leaving.

"Only God knows what will happen. We can only ask for his protection," said Riskani, as her 8-year-old son played with toy trucks in a dusting of volcanic ash that fell on the village Monday.

"If it gets worse, we will leave. But for now, we are staying in this village," she said.

Just one more pathetic example of how unsupported beliefs directly endanger human life.

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