More than 120,000 people have fled their homes on the Indonesian island of Bali, fearful that a rumbling volcano could erupt at any time, disaster officials said.
Mount Agung, located 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 – a potential blow to the country’s lucrative tourism industry.
The volcano’s alert status was raised to the highest level last week after it spewed white smoke and sent tremors through the area.
Officials at an evacuation centre in the Klungkung district said 122,490 people had left their homes, taking refuge at nearly 500 makeshift shelters or moving in with relatives.
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 their homes out of fear.
Villagers rest at a temporary evacuation center for people living near Mount Agung
Authorities have imposed a 12km exclusion zone around Mount Agung, which has been threatening to erupt for the first time since 1963
Despite the significant increase in estimated evacuees, the government said it was prepared.
‘In general the evacuation is going well, the logistics supply is sufficient for the evacuees’ needs,’ Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the agency spokesman, said Thursday.
This week, Indonesia’s national disaster agency has sent face masks, mattresses, blankets and tents for evacuees, who have also been provided with food.
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.
Mount Agung is seen at sunset in Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia, on Thursday evening
People gather as they wait their transport to a temporary shelter at Sibetan village on Thursday
The animals are extremely valuable to the evacuees — mostly farmers — some of whom have refused to leave the danger zone, the spokesman said.
The Indonesian Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation said Mount Agung was highly active on Thursday, recording 125 volcanic earthquakes between 12am (1700 GMT) and 6am.
‘If we look at the magnitude, it continues to increase, yesterday we also felt several quakes with the magnitude of three on the Richter scale,’ said Kasbani, head volcanologist at the centre who goes by one name.
Elsewhere, the threat of a separate volcanic eruption on the Pacific archipelago of Vanuatu prompted authorities on Thursday to order the compulsory evacuation of the entire island of Ambae, home to 11,000 people.
Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) said it was the first time in living memory that an island’s whole population had been moved because of volcanic activity.
Officials said 122,490 people had left their homes, taking refuge at nearly 500 makeshift shelters or moving in with relatives
People work at the central evacuation post at Tanah Ampo Port, Manggis Village, Karangasem regency that accommodates logistical aids that will be sent to hundreds of shelters
The Manaro Voui volcano, which last erupted in 2005, sent up a plume of steam and ash over the weekend, prompting authorities to declare a state of emergency.
The airport in Bali’s capital Denpasar, through which millions of foreign tourists pass every year, has not been affected.
Mount Agung last erupted in 1963, killing nearly 1,600 people.
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.
The archipelago of thousands of islands, is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire,’ an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.
Animals are being evacuated by villagers in Karangasem Regency, Bali, Indonesia
Villagers, who live on the slopes of Mount Agung, evacuate their livestock in Karangasem
Many of the country’s volcanoes 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 five 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.
The transportation minister said on Wednesday that Bali-bound flights could be diverted to 10 airports across the country in case of an eruption.
Ash clouds from volcanic eruptions have disrupted tourism in Bali and other parts of Indonesia in recent years.
Hundreds of domestic and international flights were disrupted in 2016 when a volcano erupted on Bali’s neighbouring Lombok island, sending columns of ash and debris into the air.