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Thousands flee their homes as Bali volcano threatens to erupt

Hundreds of tremors have been detected at Mount Agung over the past month, with an ash column of about 1,000 metres seen recently

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 September, 2017, 3:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 September, 2017, 3:09pm

Thousands of villagers on the Indonesian resort island of Bali huddled on Saturday in temporary shelters, sports centres and with relatives, fearing Mount Agung will erupt for the first time in more than half a century.

Authorities raised the volcano’s alert status to the highest level on Friday following a “tremendous increase” in seismic activity. Its last eruption in 1963 killed 1,100 people.

Villager Made Suda said he left overnight with 25 family members and as much food, clothes, cooking equipment and bedding they could carry to stay in the Klungkung sports centre.

“I feel grief and fear, feel sad about leaving the village and leaving four cows because it’s empty. Everyone has evacuated,” he said on Saturday.

Mount Agung, about 75km from the tourist hub of Kuta, has been rumbling since August and officials have recommended that people stay at least 12km away from the crater.

Hundreds of small tremors rattled the mountain this week, causing almost 10,000 people to leave their homes.

“Tremors happen very often, so we are afraid and I have taken all my family members to the refugee shelter,” villager I Wayan Suwarjana said.

National disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho advised people to stay calm and not to believe rumours.

The airport on Bali’s capital Denpasar, a top holiday destination that attracts millions of foreign tourists every year, has not been affected but airport management are watching the situation closely.

On Saturday, the Indonesian Department of Meteorology, Climate and Geophysics said there had been five small eruptions detected at the mountain, and an ash column as high as 1,000 metres had been observed.

There had been a “tremendous increase” in volcano activity, the authority said.

Holiday plans are in limbo for thousands of travellers after the Australian government put out a travel warning, urging people to exercise a high degree of caution in Indonesia and follow the instructions of authorities.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told travellers to reconfirm their plans with airlines but said the overall level of advice had not changed.

“Local authorities have temporarily suspended all outdoor activities such as hiking and camping activities in proximity to the crater,” the department said.

“An eruption of Mount Agung could impact air travel in the region. Contact your airline or tour operator to confirm travel plans.”

A spokesman for Australian airline Jetstar said all flights to Bali were going ahead as scheduled, but it was monitoring the situation.

Jetstar flies direct to Bali about 60 times a week, with room for more than 10,000 passengers.

Qantas, which flies to Bali once a week, said its meteorologists were monitoring activity but services were still going ahead as scheduled.

School holidays are under way in much of Australia – a time when the number of travellers visiting the island usually booms.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press and The Guardian