Bali authorities urge evacuees from outside Mount Agung volcano danger zone to ‘go home’
Only 70,000 people live within the 9km radius affected by possible eruption, meaning more than half can remain in their villages
More than 144,000 people have fled from a rumbling volcano on popular tourist island Bali, but officials on Saturday urged evacuees who live outside the immediate danger zone to return home.
Mount Agung, 75km from the tourist hub of Kuta, has been shaking since August, causing fears it could erupt for the first time since 1963 and triggering the highest possible alert level eight days ago.
But officials say the number of evacuees has grown too high, and only people who live within 9km of the crater should remain in temporary shelters or with friends and relatives further afield.
“There is no reason for people who live in the safe zone to evacuate. They need to go back to their village because they will become a burden,” Bali’s governor I Made Mangku Pastika said.
Only 70,000 people live within the 9km radius affected by Mount Agung’s volcanic activity, meaning more than half of the evacuees can return to their houses, the government said.
“Only people from 27 villages must evacuate. The rest can go home. They can either go home independently or with the help of the government,” said Nugroho.
The activity of Mount Agung remains high but stable, said the Indonesian Centre for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation. There were fewer than 200 tremors between midnight and 6am on Saturday – slightly below the level of seismic activity observed on Wednesday and Thursday, it said.
Indonesia sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where tectonic plates collide, causing frequent seismic and volcanic activity.
In 2010, Mount Merapi on the island of Jaya erupted after rumbling since 2006, while Mount Sinabung on Sumatra island – which is currently also on the highest alert level – has been active since 2013.
“There are no visual signs yet that Mount Agung will erupt soon. So don’t be afraid to come to Bali, it’s still safe. And if the mountain erupts, it’s still safe as long as people stay out of the dangerous zone,” Nugroho said.
The disaster mitigation agency had said on Friday that remote satellite sensing had picked up new steam emissions and thermal areas within the crater. White steam clouds above the summit were observed with greater frequency over the past three days, increasing the probability of an eruption, the centre said.
The slopes of Mount Agung are a hub for cattle farming in the region, providing an important source of income for local communities. As a result, thousands of cattle have been shifted with the help of the government.
Coordinator of a government livestock rescue team, Natakusuma – who goes by one name – said some farmers were sleeping at evacuation centres but returning to tend to their cattle during the day.
“Emotionally, it’s really hard for the farmers to part with their cattle, not only for economic reasons but also they care so much about the animals,” he said.
But it was not just the cattle farmers that found it hard to part with their animals. Some carried their pets with them, fearful they would either die or be stolen.
At a sports centre packed with evacuees in Klungkung district, Ketut Pageh cradled one of the two roosters he saved before leaving home.
“I feel sorry for them, I took them so they won’t starve because there’s no one at home to feed them,” the 42-year-old said, adding he had to sell his pigs before fleeing.
Another evacuee, Nyoman Suwarta, tearfully recounted how he was separated from his two pet zebra doves amid the frantic rush to flee the volcano.
“When I was evacuating that night, I forgot to bring them with me,” said 52-year-old Suwarta, who retrieved his birds nearly a week later.
“I feel very sorry for my birds because they have not been eating for six days.”
Faced with uncertainty about when – or if – the mountain will erupt, animal welfare groups are calling for feed, cages, water tanks and other supplies.
Verandhini said space to house the animals was becoming one of the most pressing issues.
“At the moment we have enough [room] but if a lot of people contact us, we should need more space for cows and dogs. We are still preparing for that,” she said.