ARGOMULYO (Indonesia) - RESCUERS picked through the rubble of destroyed homes and treated panicked villagers for burns on Saturday after Indonesia's most active volcano killed 77 people in its biggest eruption in over a century.

Ash, deadly heat clouds and molten debris gushed from the mouth of Mount Merapi and shot high into the sky Friday morning, triggering chaos on the roads as people fled their homes.

The latest deaths bring the overall toll to 120 since the volcano started erupting on Java island on Oct 26, a day after a tsunami killed more than 400 people in a remote area off Sumatra island to the west. The mountain spewed ash over a vast area including the Central Java provincial capital of Yogyakarta, about 28km to the south.

Many of the dead were from Argomulyo village, 18km from the crater, according to emergency response officials and witnesses, with several children under the age of 10 killed. There were at least 156 people injured in the latest eruption, the spokesman said, adding 'most suffered burn injuries'.

A river running through the village overflowed with a thick mixture of mud and ash, and several bodies lay unclaimed in the debris, witnesses said. The ranks of evacuees increased to 166,556 people after officials widened the danger zone from 15 to 20km early on Friday. Everyone living in the area was ordered to evacuate their homes and shelters immediately.

The international airport at Yogyakarta was closed as ash clouds billowed from the 2,914m mountain to the altitude of cruising jetliners and the runway was covered in grey soot. Officials said the airport would remain closed until Saturday.

Indonesians flee Merapi