KARANGASEM (Bali) • A rumbling volcano on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali is spewing steam and sulphurous fumes with more intensity, heightening fears of an eruption as officials said the number of evacuees had topped 144,000.
Mount Agung, 75km from the resort hub of Kuta, has been shaking since last month and threatening to erupt for the first time since 1963 - a potential blow to the island's lucrative tourism industry. The last eruption killed nearly 1,600 people.
The Indonesian Centre for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation said yesterday that remote satellite sensing had picked up new steam emissions and thermal areas within the crater.
White steam clouds - which contain sulphurous fumes - have been observed rising 50m to 200m above the summit, the centre said.
"At this moment, the probability of an eruption is higher than the probability of no eruption.
"However, the probability may change," said the centre's head volcanologist Kasbani, who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name.
Another volcanologist at the centre, Mr Gede Suandika, said the more frequent emissions of sulphurous fumes in the past three days indicated the possibility of an eruption is "getting more real".
Bali's disaster mitigation agency said 144,389 people had now been evacuated, compared with a tally of some 122,490 by Thursday.
They are staying in nearly 500 makeshift shelters in nine districts and some have crossed the Lombok Strait to take refuge in the neighbouring island of Lombok.
Around 62,000 people lived in the danger zone before the evacuations, according to the agency, but residents just outside the area have also left out of fear.
AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE