144,000 flee Bali volcano threat

KARANGASEM: Nearly 144,000 people on the Indonesian island of Bali have left their homes and taken shelter in makeshift evacuation centres after warnings the Mount Agung volcano could erupt at any time, officials said. Spewing white smoke and sending tremors through the area, Mount Agung’s alert status was raised to the highest level last week. Since then, tens of thousands of villagers have abandoned their homes beneath the menacing volcano.
The national disaster management agency said many people have fled because they are unsure of their proximity to a 12 km exclusion zone imposed around the crater.
Evacuees are being housed in tents, school gyms and government buildings in neighbouring villages.
While there are plentiful stocks of food, water, medicines and other supplies, evacuees fear they are in for a long wait that could disrupt their livelihoods.
One farmer said he was worried that lava flows could destroy his house and farm.
“If my house is destroyed I don’t know how to restart my life. I don’t know where my kids will sleep and all I can do now is pray,” said Gusti Gege Astana, 40.
Officials also noted there are around 30,000 cattle within the danger zone around the volcano, and efforts are being made to move the livestock as it is an important source of income for many residents.
More than 1,000 people were killed the last time Mount Agung erupted, in 1963.
An elderly woman who survived that eruption said evacuation instructions had come much earlier this time.
“Back then we weren’t evacuated until it got really dangerous. Life went on as normal when ash and gravel was falling on us, until the big lava came out and destroyed everything,” said 82-year-old Gusti Ayu Wati.
Indonesia has nearly 130 active volcanoes, more than any other country.
Many of these show high levels of activity but it can be weeks or even months before an actual eruption.
Bali is famous for its beaches and temples and saw nearly 5 million visitors last year, mainly from China, Australia and Japan.
Some tourists, however, were having second thoughts about their holiday plans after several countries, including Singapore and Australia, issued travel advisories warning of the risk from the volcano.
Bali’s tourism department on Thursday issued a letter reassuring travellers, and noting that flights were operating normally.
“The island is safe except for areas around Mount Agung. We urge tourists to continue visiting,” the letter said.
— Reuters