From the archives: What happened when Mount Agung last erupted in 1963


In 1963, the Mount Agung volcano on the Indonesian island of Bali erupted three times, after being dormant for 120 years.
In 1963, the Mount Agung volcano on the Indonesian island of Bali erupted three times, after being dormant for 120 years.PHOTO: REUTERS

BALI - The last time the Mount Agung volcano on the Indonesian island of Bali blew up in 1963, it killed about 1,600 people, razed dozens of villages and left tens of thousands homeless.

That year, the volcano erupted three times, after being dormant for 120 years.

According to accounts from wire reports at the time, its first rumbling came in February, and there were subsequent eruptions months after. The biggest one occurred on March 17 when the volcano threw up debris as high as 10km in the air, destroying dozens of villages in a radius of about 7km.

Cascades of lava flowed down the volcano's slopes for days after that - one report said that residents from three villages in the lower mountain slopes were surrounded by boiling streams of lava.

Many of those who survived were hospitalised for burns sustained from the volcano's scorching ash and falling rocks.

The island was also blanketed by thick ash while lava flows engulfed hectares of rice crops, threatening the lives of 200,000 people with famine.

Ash from that eruption reached Madura and Surabaya in East Java province, which is separated from Bali by narrow straits. In Surabaya, the thick clouds of ash led to school closures while parts of the Indonesian capital of Jakarta were also affected.

In Bali's capital Denpasar, an appeal for volunteers was launched to help evacuate the thousands of villagers whose homes were destroyed. The authorities also took on the daunting task of evacuating the hundreds of thousands separated from their homes near the volcano and resettling them on other islands.

That eruption led Indonesia's then-President Soekarno to declare it a "national disaster", with Jakarta flying in hundreds of army medical corps and ambulances to attend to the injured.

The United Nations extended its assistance to the Indonesian government, while the United States embassy offered medical supplies.

Months after that eruption, the volcano would continue to show signs of dangerous activity with minor eruptions and flows that lasted until the next year.

Records showed that Mount Agung had experienced major eruptions in 1908, 1823, 1843, and 1963.