Small eruption on Agung after Jokowi visit to assure tourists

The alert level for Mount Agung and the 8 to 10km radius around it remains at its highest.
The alert level for Mount Agung and the 8 to 10km radius around it remains at its highest.PHOTO: BNPB

JAKARTA - Bali's Mount Agung had a small eruption on Saturday (Dec 23), a day after Indonesian President Joko Widodo's visit to assure tourists that the island remains safe.

The alert level for the volcano and the 8 to 10km radius around it remains at its highest, said the national disaster management agency (BNPB), but the rest of the island beyond this zone continues to be safe.

"A volcano at level 4 alert (the highest) definitely would erupt frequently. Whether the eruptions are big or small would depend on the energy released each time. This is not something we should be worried about," BNPB spokesman Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in a statement.

The volcano erupted just before noon local time, spewing ash between 500m and 2.5km high, with winds generally blowing towards the north-east.

Bali's Ngurah Rai international airport, which is located about 70km south-west of Agung, is not affected and is operating as normal.

The small eruption came just after Mr Joko's visit on Friday, part of efforts to stem the US$1.2 billion (S$1.6 billion) in estimated losses suffered by the tourism industry since the volcano rumbled back to life in September, forcing 140,000 people living nearby to be evacuated.

At tourist hub Kuta, Mr Joko rolled up his trousers to dip his toes in the sea and took wefies with the crowd.

"We want to show that Bali is safe. Bali is safe to spend the end of the year on, and so there should not be any (negative) perception due to Mount Agung's eruption," he said, reported the Jakarta Post.

Mr Joko stayed on and held a Cabinet meeting on Friday night, which decided to lift the emergency response status for Bali, effectively ending the nationally coordinated efforts to assist local residents affected by the volcano's activities.

In late November, Mount Agung belched huge columns of ash, triggering travel chaos as the airport was shut for a few days, stranding tens of thousands of travellers.

Indonesia, which sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, has 127 active volcanoes, or 13 per cent of the world's volcanoes.

In 1963, Mount Agung's eruptions killed 1,549 people and forced 100,000 others to flee their homes.