RESIDENTS and tourists alike wait in anticipation as Mount Agung on Indonesia’s holiday hotspot, Bali, looks set for a serious eruption. The popular tourist island has been on high alert since September after seismic tremors were detected indicating the volcano was coming back to life.
Small eruptions began last Tuesday when clouds of smoke and ash were emitted from the mountain’s peak. Since then, the eruptions have been ramping up with local volcanologist fearing a large eruption could be imminent.
With over 2,000 tourists stranded at the airport, and its closure extended until at least 7am on Wednesday, people are wondering what’s going on and are they safe?
Are people in harm’s way?
On Monday, authorities ordered 100,000 residents living near the volcano to evacuate immediately. An 8-10 km exclusion zone has been imposed around the summit. At the time of writing (Tuesday 5pm local time) this has not changed.
However, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the Disaster Mitigation Agency, said on Tuesday that while the population in the area has been estimated at anywhere between 63,000 and 140,000, just over 29,000 people were registered at emergency centre.
“Not all people in the danger zone are prepared to take refuge,” he told Reuters.
“There are still a lot of residents staying in their homes.”
Agung’s last eruption in 1963 killed more than 1,000 people and razed several villages by hurling out pyroclastic material, hot ash, and lava.
Indonesia’s Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Centre (PVMBG) warned that if a similar eruption occurred, it could send rocks bigger than fist-size up to 8 km from the summit and volcanic gas a distance of 10 km within three minutes.
What’s happening on the ground?
Photos coming out of Bali show massive lava flows surging into surrounding rivers around the base of Mount Agung. Lahars, as these cold lava flows are called, have occurred in a number of places, according to Sutopo’s Twitter page.
The force of the volcanic sludge can be seen in stills taken from videos shot by Reuters.
The latest from volcano monitoring centre MAGMA Indonesia says the ash cloud is now reaching 4 km into the atmosphere.
What can tourists do?
The Tourism Ministry Crisis Centre is putting on buses to transport people from the airport back to their hotels as news of the extended closure of Ngurah Rai International Airport is announced, the Jakarta Post reports.
Ten alternative airports have been prepared for airlines to divert inbound flights, including in neighbouring provinces, the airport operator said, adding it was helping people make alternative bookings and providing food and entertainment for stranded travelers.
The airport on Lombok island, to the east of Bali, had been reopened, authorities said, as wind blew ash westward, toward the southern coast of Java island.
According to reports, a number of hotels on the island are offering a free stay for one night and 50 percent discount for the next day for tourists whose flights have been canceled. Assembly points and shelters have also been set-up in 15 destinations across the island for those stuck.
For international tourists, the Immigration Office is granting one-month visa extensions to those who are affected.
What happens next?
Despite a similar pattern of volcanic activity to that in 1963, which reached a peak after up to three months of ash emissions, it was not clear how long the current eruption would last, said David Pyle, a professor in earth sciences at Oxford University.
“It remains possible that the eruptive crisis could continue for some time.”
The best advice is to hunker down, cross your fingers, and ride out the eruption as best you can. Matthew Radix from Perth has decided to see the silver lining of this volcanic ash cloud.
“It’s all right. We’re on holidays so it doesn’t matter,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen but we can get back to the bar and have another drink.”
Additional reporting by Reuters