MOUNT MERAPI, Indonesia – A surge of searing gas raced down the sides of Mount Merapi on Friday, smothering houses, cattle and villagers in its path. The death toll after the volcano’s largest eruption in a century soared to 122.

The worst-hit village of Bronggang lay nine miles from the fiery crater, just on the perimeter of the government-delineated “danger zone.”

The danger zone has been expanded 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 latest round of eruptions began Oct. 26, followed by more than a dozen powerful blasts and thousands of tremors.

With each new eruption, scientists and officials have steadily pushed the villagers who live along Merapi’s fertile slopes farther from the crater. But after initially predicting earlier eruptions would ease pressure under the magma dome, experts who have spent a lifetime studying the volcano now say the don’t know what to expect.

On Friday, towering plumes of ash rained dust on windshields of cars 300 miles away, although afternoon rain near the mountain turned much of it to sludge. Bursts of hot clouds occasionally interrupted aid efforts.

The eruption released 1,765 million cubic feet of volcanic material, making it “the biggest in at least a century,” said state volcanologist Gede Swantika. Plumes of smoke shot up more than 30,000 feet.

Soldiers pulled at least 78 bodies from homes and streets blanketed by ash up to a foot deep Friday, raising the overall toll to 122, according to the National Disaster Management Agency.

The living — with clothes, blankets and even mattresses fused to their skin by the 1,400-degree Fahrenheit heat — were carried away on stretchers following the first big explosion just before midnight.

More than 150 injured people — with burns, respiratory problems, broken bones and cuts — waited to be treated at the tiny Sardjito hospital and two other hospitals.

More than 100,000 people living on the mountain have been evacuated to crowded emergency shelters in the last week. Some return to their villages during lulls in activity, however, to tend to their livestock.

They were told to stay away Friday. The government also announced an $11 million program to buy the cows on the mountain to keep farmers off its slopes, and to provide compensation for animals lost in the eruptions.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 235 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanoes because it sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped string of faults that lines the Pacific Ocean.

While Friday’s explosion was the largest in volume in a century, an eruption at Merapi in 1930 killed many more – 1,300.

Even that toll pales in comparison to other volcanoes in the region: Indonesia’s Krakatoa killed at least 36,000 people in 1883, in an eruption that could be heard 2,000 miles away.