SURABAYA, Indonesia - Indonesian engineers temporarily halted an attempt to plug a fissure that has been gushing mud for nine months, after a steel cable hoisting cement balls into the crater broke Saturday, officials said.

The hot, noxious mud has displaced 13,000 people and covered dozens of factories and thousands of homes. The mud has blocked major roads into the country's second largest city, Surabaya.

Over the next few weeks, authorities plan to drop nearly 1,500 concrete balls, weighing up to 500 pounds each, into the geyser. A string of four balls was successfully lowered into the hole Saturday in heavy rain and wind, said Rudi Novrianto, a spokesman for a government task force handling the disaster.

"Thank God, we have managed to drop one chain, equipped with sensors to monitor pressure and depth," he said. "We had to halt the process because of the broken steel cable. We will continue tomorrow after repairing it."

Officials had hoped to drop between 5 and 10 strands of balls into the mud volcano on Saturday.

If successful, the project will decrease by up to 70 percent the volume of mud now being channeled by a system of dams into a nearby river and out to sea. The mud has been surging at a rate that could fill 50 Olympic-sized swimming pools a day.

Critics, however, doubt it will succeed and warn it could be dangerous or that deep underground pressure could push the mud up elsewhere.

Mud fissures occur naturally along volatile tectonic belts like the one running below Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago. But opinions differ about the cause of the latest rupture.

Independent geological studies suggest it was triggered by faulty gas exploration techniques by operator PT Lapindo Brantas, which created fissures in a bed of porous limestone.

Other research supports the company's assertion that it was a natural disaster resulting from increased seismic activity following a major earthquake two days before the mud began flowing.