Nearly 50,000 flee amid fears of Bali volcanic eruption

Tens of thousands of Indonesians evacuate on the holiday resort island of Bali as Mount Agung continues to smolder. Officials warning it could erupt at any time.
Villagers gather at an evacuation centre in Karangasem, Bali on Sept 24, 2017.
Villagers gather at an evacuation centre in Karangasem, Bali on Sept 24, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

KARANGASEM, Indonesia (AFP, REUTERS) - Nearly 50,000 people have evacuated their homes amid fears of an imminent volcanic eruption on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, disaster officials said on Monday (Sept 25).

Mount Agung, about 75km from the tourist hub of Kuta, has been rumbling since August, threatening to erupt for the first time in more than 50 years.

Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency said on Monday 48,540 people had fled, although the number was expected to rise because more than 60,000 people lived in the danger zone.

"There are still people who don't want to be evacuated," Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the disaster mitigation agency, said at a press conference.  

"The reason is firstly, the mountain hasn't erupted yet. Secondly, they are worried about their livestock."

Nugroho said Mount Agung has entered a “critical phase”, meaning magma has risen closer to the surface, as indicated by hundreds of shallow volcanic tremors that have rattled the area in recent days. 

Officials announced the highest possible alert level on Friday following the increasing volcanic activity, and told people to stay at least nine kilometres away from the crater. But they have also urged the public to remain calm amid false reports and videos circulating online of an eruption.

Evacuees are being housed in makeshift shelters like town halls and school gyms. Host communities were providing food and water, while the central and local governments were providing tents, blankets and other relief.

 
 

Some 2,000 cows have been also evacuated from the flanks of the volcano.

Nengah Satiya, who left home with his wife three days ago, said he had been returning to the danger zone to tend to his pigs and chickens.

"There are many livestock in our village but nobody is taking them," Nengah Satiya told AFP. "We take turns going back to feed them."

Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, the United States and Britain have issued advisories warning that the increased volcanic activity at Mount Agung in eastern Bali could disrupt flights at one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. So far, the airport in Bali's capital Denpasar, through which millions of foreign tourists pass every year, has not been affected. 

More than 1,000 people died when Mount Agung last erupted in 1963.

Indonesia, which sits on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, has nearly 130 active volcanoes, more than any other country. Many Indonesians live near volcanoes because lava flows can make the surrounding soil and land fertile for farming.