Rumbling Bali volcano triggers memories of deadly 1963 eruption

Balinese taking refuge at a temporary evacuation centre yesterday as Mount Agung continued to send out signals of imminent eruption. More than 120,000 people have fled to safety, and officials have warned people to stay at least 9km away from the vol
Balinese taking refuge at a temporary evacuation centre yesterday as Mount Agung continued to send out signals of imminent eruption. More than 120,000 people have fled to safety, and officials have warned people to stay at least 9km away from the volcano's crater.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
Balinese taking refuge at a temporary evacuation centre yesterday as Mount Agung continued to send out signals of imminent eruption. More than 120,000 people have fled to safety, and officials have warned people to stay at least 9km away from the vol
Balinese taking refuge at a temporary evacuation centre yesterday as Mount Agung continued to send out signals of imminent eruption. More than 120,000 people have fled to safety, and officials have warned people to stay at least 9km away from the volcano's crater.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

KARANGASEM (Bali) • The last time Mount Agung volcano erupted in Bali, a stream of molten lava flattened teenage Gusti Nyoman Dauh's home, while cascading ash, rocks and hot gas killed 1,600 of his neighbours.

So more than 50 years later, when the Indonesian volcano began rumbling once again, the now-grandfather did not hesitate before gathering his family and fleeing to a crowded, makeshift shelter.

Sleeping on donated mattresses and making do with whatever clothes and possessions they could salvage, Mr Dauh - now 72 - recalls the last time he had to run for his life.

"It was around 11.30am, we immediately ran, we had nothing with us except the clothes we were wearing," Mr Dauh said.

He and his family have been at the centre for seven days. In 1963, as a number of elderly evacuees recall, the mountain continued to erupt for a year.

In that year, pyroclastic flows - a fast-moving mix of gas and volcanic material - spread 13km from the crater.

"At night everything was shaking because of the earthquake, I evacuated on foot through dusty roads," said 70-year-old Nengah Bunter at another evacuation centre.

"Mount Agung had been erupting for three months when the government evacuated us. The lava and rocks had already been flowing near my house."

Officials hope improved technology and early warnings this time mean a disaster on the scale of 1963 will be averted.

They announced the highest possible alert level last Friday due to the increasing volcanic activity, and told people to stay at least 9km away from the crater.

"During the 1963 Mount Agung eruption, obviously the technology was not as good as what we have now, there were no volcanologists urging people to evacuate, that's why the number of victims was high," said Dr Surono, one of the country's leading volcanologists, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

More than 120,000 people have now fled Mount Agung in fear of a possible eruption, packing into temporary shelters across Bali or moving in with relatives.

The Indonesian Centre for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation said activity on Mount Agung remained high yesterday, recording 125 volcanic earthquakes between 12am and 6am.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2017, with the headline 'Rumbling Bali volcano triggers memories of deadly 1963 eruption'. Print Edition | Subscribe