JAKARTA • While Mount Agung in Bali has shown a decline in volcanic activity, residents of nearby areas are told to remain vigilant in the face of more potential eruptions.
The Volcanology and Geological Hazards Mitigation Centre (PVMBG) has reminded villagers to stay on high alert despite Mount Agung's calming appearance, as the agency continues to detect a high level of activity inside the volcano.
For the past three days, visitors and residents of Bali's Karangasem regency have found relief in witnessing the smoke coming out of Mount Agung turning into a thin, white haze. Sometimes, there is nothing but clouds drifting above the volcano.
The sight is a stark contrast to the image Mount Agung presented for about five days from Nov 25, during which thick plumes of dark smoke - at times mixed with red - billowed out of the crater, while volcanic ash spewed as high as 4,000m into the sky.
"Thank God, Mount Agung is without smoke this afternoon," Denpasar resident Grace Jeanie, wrote on her Facebook page on Saturday.
Photos of a serene-looking Mount Agung surrounded by a clear, blue sky began surfacing on various social media platforms over the weekend.
Lombok International Airport, on Lombok island next to Bali, began operating as normal on Sunday, after closing twice in the past week due to Mount Agung's rumblings.
POTENTIAL FOR ERUPTION
It's calm on the outside, but there's a lot of activity inside.
PVMBG OFFICIAL DEVY KAMIL SYAHBANA, on why villagers living near Mount Agung have to remain alert.
Singaporeans should defer travel to Bali, says MFA
Singaporeans should defer travel to Bali as the situation on Mount Agung remains unpredictable, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said yesterday.
"The Indonesian authorities' alert level for Mount Agung in Bali remains at the highest," an MFA spokesman said in a statement.
It said that volcanic ash from eruptions could result in further airport closures and disruption of air travel at short notice.
"We continue to advise Singaporeans to defer travel to Bali until the situation improves".
MFA's crisis response team has been deployed at Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport since Nov 27.
The team has been working with the local authorities and airlines to give consular help to Singaporeans affected by the closure of the airport following the volcano's eruptions.
However, airport officials said they would continue to observe and record the volcano's activity every six hours to ensure the safety of their flights and passengers. The PVMBG has warned residents and visitors not to be deceived by Mount Agung's seemingly subdued appearance.
"It's calm on the outside, but there's a lot of activity inside," PVMBG official Devy Kamil Syahbana said on Sunday.
He added that the centre continued to detect overscale seismic tremors, which exceed the ability of PVMBG's tools to measure.
At least 20 million cubic m of magmatic fluids might have filled the crater, he said.
Mount Agung's activity began to escalate in September with a series of earthquakes. It first erupted on Nov 21, spewing volcanic ash and gas. On Nov 28, ash columns reached as high as 4,000m into the sky, before dropping to 2,000m the next day.
The PVMBG has warned people to stay away from the exclusion zone, or an 8 to 10km radius from the crater.
At least 22 villages located on the slopes of Mount Agung were declared exclusion zones. Still, hundreds of residents have insisted on staying in their homes.
Meanwhile, about 100,000 people are believed to live in the danger zone.
More than 55,000 people moved into evacuation camps last week. Others may have gone to stay with relatives without registering with officials.
Many have had to abandon jobs, gardens and livestock.
Despite the scale of the evacuation, its implementation has been haphazard. Some roads leading into the area have no checkpoints - or police officers on duty - to stop people from passing through.
Many residents go home regularly to feed their animals and check on their homes before returning to the camps at night.
THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, NYTIMES