Evacuations continue as Agung rumbles on

Above: An Indonesian rescue team evacuating a woman from a dangerous area yesterday amid concerns that a major eruption is imminent. Left: A woman making an offering at a camp for people who have been evacuated from villages near Mount Agung yesterda
Above: An Indonesian rescue team evacuating a woman from a dangerous area yesterday amid concerns that a major eruption is imminent.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Above: An Indonesian rescue team evacuating a woman from a dangerous area yesterday amid concerns that a major eruption is imminent. Left: A woman making an offering at a camp for people who have been evacuated from villages near Mount Agung yesterda
Above: A woman making an offering at a camp for people who have been evacuated from villages near Mount Agung yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA • Karangasem regency in east Bali, where Mount Agung lies, was once a rich kingdom that also ruled the western regions of Lombok island until it was conquered by the Dutch in 1894.

Its people were dealt another blow in 1963 when the volcano erupted twice between March and May that year, claiming more than 1,500 lives.

The eyes of the world were on the regency again after Mount Agung slowly awoke over the last week, before violently roaring to life on Sunday, producing a dramatic rising column of ash cloud from magma.

The eruptions, said to be precursors of an imminent and larger blowout ahead, were followed by a pyroclastic avalanche of gas, mudflows and ash fall over the eastern side of the island.

Yesterday, more than 38,000 people living in villages across Karangasem were evacuated to the 217 shelters located on the fringes of the regency.

Ms Ni Ketut Puspa Kumari, who is in charge of social services in the regency, said there are still thousands more who need to make their way to shelters, either by themselves or with help from Indonesia's National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), police, military, and search and rescue agency Basarnas.

According to a census conducted in 2002, there are about 369,320 people in Karangasem, about a quarter of whom live inside the 10km exclusion zone of the volcano.

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Nugroho had said earlier that many villagers refused to be evacuated because they feel the situation is still safe and they are reluctant to abandon their cattle.

Although the Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali has resumed operations after being shut down over the last two days, a major eruption of Mount Agung is still expected.

"Mount Agung is still emitting black and white smoke continuously, and we have already seen fire, and rivers are flooded with ash," Ms Kumari told The Straits Times yesterday.

President Joko Widodo yesterday also weighed in and appealed to residents to evacuate to safety. Speaking to reporters in Jakarta, he said: "I do not want any victims because of this eruption."

Local emergency services, meanwhile, have been scrambling to stock evacuation shelters with sufficient supplies as the number of displaced residents began to climb after thousands were forced to abandon their homes.

When The Straits Times visited a shelter in Rendang district on Tuesday, Madam Ni Wayan Wati was huddled together with her four grandchildren under a small makeshift tent, trying to avoid the rain as well as the hazardous volcanic ash falling from the skies following the eruptions at Mount Agung.

Madam Wati and four of her children were evacuated to Rendang, a village located about 5km from her home in Banjar Besakih Kawan, three days ago.

Banjar Besakih Kawan village, as well as others such as Kubu, are some of the districts that are at high risk of being wiped out if a major eruption occurs, said Ms Kumari.

Madam Wati told The Straits Times: "My village was heavily covered with volcanic ash, I was so afraid... The government then ordered us to evacuate, so we just came here."

But life at the shelter, set up at a farming complex in Rendang, has not been easy, especially with the rainy season kicking in.

On their first night, heavy rain flooded the area. With half of the tents there yet to have tarpaulin covers over the bamboo frames, many families were drenched.

"See for yourself, if there are no tarpaulins for everyone, how can we take shelter, let alone sleep in peace?" added Madam Wati.

Francis Chan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2017, with the headline 'Evacuations continue as Agung rumbles on'. Print Edition | Subscribe