Mount Agung: More than 38,000 evacuated to shelters in Bali

Bali resident Ni Nengah Ngarti (holding baby) and her family in their small makeshift tent at an evacuation shelter in Rendang, about 5km from her home. As of Nov 28, only about 29,000 evacuees have made it to the 217 shelters in Karangasem regency. PHOTO: ANTON MUHAJIR
An evacuee at the evacuation shelter in Rendang after collecting a tarpaulin cover for his tent. As of Nov 27, at least half of the tents at the shelter did not have tarpaulin covers for their tents and many families were drenched when it rained. PHOTO: ANTON MUHAJIR
Local district officials registering evacuees at the evacuation shelter in Rendang. The Rendang district chief said there has been a shortfall in supplies due to the sudden increase in the number of evacuees since Nov 26, 2017. PHOTO: ANTON MUHAJIR

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 with 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 (Nov 26), producing a dramatic rising column of ash cloud from magma.

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

On Wednesday (Nov 29), more than 38,000 people living in villages across Karangasem were evacuated to the 217 shelters located on the fringes of the regency, and in the safe zone.

Ms Ni Ketut Puspa Kumari, who is in-charge of social services in the regency, said there are still thousands more that 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 considering the lives of their cattle.

Although the I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali had resumed operations after being shut down due to volcanic ash fall 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 see fire, and rivers are flooded with ash," Ms Kumari told The Straits Times.

President Joko Widodo on Wednesday also weighed in and appealed to residents to evacuate to safety.

Speaking to reporters during an event at the Raffles Jakarta hotel, he said: "I do not want any victims because of this eruption."

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

Ms Kumari said there were also many who have been staying at the shelters since Mount Agung first showed signs of an awakening in September.

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.

The grandmother of four, and four of her own 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 other such as Kubu, are some of the districts which are at high risk of being wiped out if a major eruption occurs, said Ms Kumari.

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

But life at the shelter, set up at a farming complex in Rendang, has not been easy, especially with the raining season kicking in.
On their first night, heavy rain flooded the area and 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 we can take shelter, let alone sleep in peace," added Madam Wati.

Other evacuees such as Madam Ni Nengah Ngarti and Mr Gede Karya, also complained of the lack of basic amenities and appealed to the local government to send staples such as rice, soap, milk and face masks, among other things.

"I'm most worried about my youngest children, especially from the volcanic ashes," said Mr Gede.

Rendang district chief I Wayan Mastra agreed that there is an urgent need for the proper face masks, as the ones residents are now using will not protect them from the ash fall.

"Indeed, those are the only masks we have,and they are what we are distributing," said Mr Mastra. "They are (thin) but it is still better than not using one at all."

He explained that the shortfall in supplies is due to the sudden increase in the number of evacuees which have doubled from 2,662 to 5,436 since Sunday after the more recent eruptions.

"This is because of the extension of disaster prone areas from a 6km radius to 7.5km, and now 10km, so naturally the number of evacuees has also increased," said Mr Mastra, adding that more supplies will be arriving soon.

There is also the danger of ash fall spreading outside the 10km exclusion zone, and authorities have advised people in the area to wear masks to shield their noses and mouths, and eye protection.

The situation for residents in Bali's capital Denpasar, about 70km away from the volcano, however, remains safe, for now.

Mr Ni Made Soni, 47, said volcanic ash fall has not spread to his estate in Denpasar possibly because of the rain - November is traditionally when the wet season begins in Bali.

"Since the warning was issued, some people fled to Sanur, south-east of the island," he said. "For now, the only impact for us in the city is on our tourism."

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