BALI – Mount Agung on the resort island of Bali begun erupting on Tuesday evening (Nov 21), less than a month after its alert level was lowered, reported The Jakarta Post.
The volcano, which has been rumbling since August and forced over 100,000 people to evacuate in September, spewed black smoke at 5.05pm on Tuesday, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the head of the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).
“Residents are advised to remain calm. Do not panic. Stay away from areas within a 6 to 7.5 kilometre radius of the volcano,” he said on his Twitter account.
The Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry’s Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation Centre (PVMBG) said in a statement that the height of the smoke reached more than 700m from the peak of the mountain, according to the Jakarta Post.
“The eruption is still ongoing. Residents should remain calm and follow the PVMBG’s recommendations,” the statement said.
As at Tuesday afternoon, there were just under 30,000 evacuees staying at 278 shelters, Indonesian authorities said. Most of the other evacuees from Sept had returned home after the volcano’s alert level was lowered from level 4, the highest danger level, to level 3 on Oct 29.
The volcano’s alert level was still kept at level 3 on Tuesday, as the authorities said there had not been any increase in seismic activity.
“Right now this is not a serious eruption but of course this can change. Keep an eye on official reports,” tweeted New Zealand volcanologist Dr Janine Krippner. She also tweeted that the people on Bali were not panicked.
The Jakarta Post added that people living near the volcano said they did not see any signs that Mount Agung had erupted.
“I am sure it has not erupted. We saw the mountain this afternoon. All of us saw it. It was not an eruption. There was no earthquake. We did not feel any earthquake," said Besakih customary village chief, Jero Mangku Widiartha.
AFP also reported that the alert level has not been raised, according to Made Indra, from Bali’s disaster mitigation agency. “To us this is not an eruption,” he told AFP.
“An eruption means materials are spewing out of the mountain, and in this case there hasn’t been any. This is smoke.” But local volcanologist Gede Suantika added that “people within six kilometres of the mountain (summit) should evacuate”, AFP reported.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, an Indonesian government press release said a potential danger was heavy ash rain that could spread outside of the danger zone.
“It is expected that all communities living around Mount Agung and on the island of Bali, immediately prepare a mask to cover the nose and mouth and eye protection as an effort to anticipate the potential danger of volcanic ash,” the government said in its statement.
The BNPB described the eruption as "phreatic", which is a steam-driven explosion that occurs when water beneath the ground or on the surface is heated by molten rock, known as magma, lava, hot rocks or new volcanic deposits, according to the Herald.
Meanwhile, operations at Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport continued as usual, Jakarta Post said.
“Airport operation remains normal. Visual monitoring by pilots is underway. The wind is heading east and southeast. It’s not heading to the airport,” said the airport’s spokesman, Arie Ahsanuurohim.
Mount Agung, which is located 75km from the resort hub of Kuta, last erupted in 1963, killing nearly 1,600 people.