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Bali volcano belches steam, sulphur as more evacuees flee

A rumbling volcano on the holiday island of Bali is spewing steam and sulphurous fumes with more intensity, heightening fears of an eruption as officials said the number of evacuees had topped 144,000.

Mount Agung, 47 miles from the resort hub of Kuta, has been shaking since August and threatening to erupt for the first time since 1963, and while some 62,000 people live in the exclusion zone, thousands have fled their homes out of fear.

White steam clouds – which contain sulphurous fumes – have been observed rising 50 to 200 metres above the summit, a local observation centre said Friday. 

Mount Agung, 47 miles from the resort hub of Kuta, has been shaking since August and threatening to erupt for the first time since 1963.

The Indonesian Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation said that remote satellite sensing had picked up new steam emissions and thermal areas within the crater.

‘At this moment, the probability of an eruption is higher than the probability of no eruption; however, the probability may change,’ said Kasbani, the centre’s head volcanologist who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

Another of the volcanologists at the centre, Gede Suandika, said the more frequent emission of sulphurous fumes in the past three days indicated the volcano was changing.

‘This morning the steam billowed from the crater like the smoke that comes out of a factory chimney,’ he said.

‘Since the sulphurous fumes are out, the possibility of an eruption is getting more real.’

Bali’s disaster mitigation agency said 144,389 people had now been evacuated, compared to a tally of some 122,490 by Thursday.

They are staying in nearly 500 makeshift shelters in nine districts and some have crossed the Lombok Strait to take refuge on the neighboring island of Lombok.

Around 62,000 people lived in the danger zone before the evacuations, according to Indonesia´s disaster mitigation agency, but residents just outside the area have also left out of fear.

Five mobile sirens have been installed in the danger zone to warn residents in the event of an eruption.

Around 10,000 animals have also been evacuated from the flanks of the volcano.

Officials estimate there are at least 30,000 cows within a 12km radius of the mountain´s summit, and efforts to relocate them are ongoing.

‘We’ve set a target to evacuate 20,000 more cows from the affected areas,’ Nugroho said.

The animals are extremely valuable to the evacuees – mostly farmers – some of whom have refused to leave the danger zone, the spokesman said.

The airport in Bali’s capital Denpasar, through which millions of foreign tourists pass every year, has not been affected, but several countries including Australia and Singapore have issued travel advisories warning visitors to exercise caution.

Mount Agung’s last eruption more than 50 years ago killed nearly 1,600 people.

Mount Agung, a volcano which had its alert status raised to the highest level last week, is seen as farmers tend their crops near Amed, on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia September 29, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

Mount Agung, a volcano that had its alert status raised to the highest level last week, is seen as residents evacuate their belongings in a truck, near Kubu, on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia September 29, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

Mount Agung, a volcano that had its alert status raised to the highest level last week, is seen as residents evacuate their belongings in a truck, near Kubu, on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia September 29, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

A boy sits in front of his shelter at an evacuee camp outside the Mount Agung volcano in Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia, Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. Warnings that the volcano on the tourist island will erupt have sparked an exodus of tens of thousands of people as authorities have ordered the evacuation of villagers living within a high danger zone that in places extends 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from its crater. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)

A boy sits in front of his shelter at an evacuee camp outside the Mount Agung volcano in Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia, Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. Warnings that the volcano on the tourist island will erupt have sparked an exodus of tens of thousands of people as authorities have ordered the evacuation of villagers living within a high danger zone that in places extends 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from its crater. (AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati)

epa06233564 Mount Agung is seen from Amed village in Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia, 29 September 2017. The Center for Volcanology of Geological Hazard Mitigation (PVMBG) raised the alert level of Mount Agung to the highest level on 22 September. About 100,000 people have been already evacuated from their homes around the mountain.  EPA/MADE NAGI

epa06233564 Mount Agung is seen from Amed village in Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia, 29 September 2017. The Center for Volcanology of Geological Hazard Mitigation (PVMBG) raised the alert level of Mount Agung to the highest level on 22 September. About 100,000 people have been already evacuated from their homes around the mountain. EPA/MADE NAGI

epa06233561 A view of Mount Agung spewing hot gas seen from Amed village in Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia, 29 September 2017. The Center for Volcanology of Geological Hazard Mitigation (PVMBG) raised the alert level of Mount Agung to the highest level on 22 September. About 100,000 people have been already evacuated from their homes around the mountain.  EPA/MADE NAGI

epa06233561 A view of Mount Agung spewing hot gas seen from Amed village in Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia, 29 September 2017. The Center for Volcanology of Geological Hazard Mitigation (PVMBG) raised the alert level of Mount Agung to the highest level on 22 September. About 100,000 people have been already evacuated from their homes around the mountain. EPA/MADE NAGI

Bali's Mount Agung, 75 kilometres (47 miles) from the resort hub of Kuta, has been shaking since August and threatening to erupt for the first time since 1963

Bali’s Mount Agung, 75 kilometres (47 miles) from the resort hub of Kuta, has been shaking since August and threatening to erupt for the first time since 1963

 

‘Pack your stuff’: Bali tourists are woken at midnight

Tourists have told how they were woken up in the middle of the night and evacuated from their hotels in Bali over fears a huge volcano could erupt.

Rory Eastick, a tourist from Australia in Bali for a wedding, said he was woken up at 11.30pm by his Indonesian brother-in-law and told to evacuate his hotel immediately. 

‘It was quite a worrying moment because it was at that time we realised everyone in our hotel had already left,’ he said.

Rory Eastick, a tourist from Newcastle in Bali for a wedding, said he was woken up at 11.30pm  and told to evacuate his hotel immediately

Monique Correia had to flee, saying: 'The lady from my hotel has just told us to all pack our stuff and evacuate and drive back to Kuta now.'

Tourists have told how they were woken up in the middle of the night and evacuated from their hotels in Bali over fears a huge volcano could erupt. Right: Rory Eastick. Left: Monique Correia  

Mr Eastick was staying in the diving town of Tulamben, less than 10km from Agung, after the wedding in the remote village of Munti Gunung.  

His friends and family shared their own tales of being forced out of their accommodation and fleeing to towns farther away.

‘Got back to our hotel in Tulamben and it was evacuated, no one there at all,’ Asher Boekeman wrote on Facebook.

Australian Monique Correia, said: ‘The lady from my hotel has just told us to all pack our stuff and evacuate and drive back to Kuta now.’ 

Pemerintah Provinsi Bali, Indonesia’s national disaster agency, urged holidaymakers to ‘continue visiting Bali’ in a letter claiming it was ‘business as usual’.

‘Bali tourism is safe. Do not spread the misleading news that Bali is not safe because Mount Agung is on the highest alert status. Please, come and visit Bali,’ it read.

‘We ran’: Survivors of 1963 Bali eruption recall terror

Bali’s Mount Agung volcano last erupted in 1963.  Gusti Nyoman Dauh, now 72, lived through it as a teenager.

From his makeshift shelter, he recalls the last time he had to run for his life as his house was flattened.

‘It was around 11:30am, we immediately ran, we had nothing with us except the clothes we were wearing,’ Dauh said

Gusti Nyoman Dauh, 72, says his house was flattened the last time Bali's Mount Agung volcano erupted in 1963

Gusti Nyoman Dauh, 72, says his house was flattened the last time Bali’s Mount Agung volcano erupted in 1963

‘I was afraid and panicked. Our house was flattened by the eruption. It was scary.’

In 1963 pyroclastic flows – a fast moving mix of gas and volcanic material – spread 13 kilometres from the crater.

‘At night everything was shaking because of the earthquake, I evacuated on foot through dusty roads,’ said Nengah Bunter, 70, at another evacuation centre.

‘Mount Agung had been erupting for three months when the government evacuated us. The lava and rocks had already been flowing near my house.’

Survivors of the 1963 Mount Agung volcano eruption recall being evacuated 50 years ago, when the cascading ash, rocks and hot gas killed 1,600 people

Survivors of the 1963 Mount Agung volcano eruption recall being evacuated 50 years ago, when the cascading ash, rocks and hot gas killed 1,600 people

Nyoman Lanus Kecil, 75, added: ‘It started raining ash so I ran away. I heard there was a ship leaving for another island, but when I arrived there was nothing.’

Officials hope improved technology and early warnings this time mean a disaster on the scale of 1963 will be averted.

‘During the 1963 Mount Agung eruption, obviously the technology was not as good as what we have now, there were no volcanologists urging people to evacuate, that’s why the number of victims was high,’ said Surono, one of the country’s leading volcanologists, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

Indonesia is the world’s most active volcanic region with 127 active volcanoes.

The Southeast Asian archipelago lies on the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ where tectonic plates collide, causing frequent seismic and volcanic activity.

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