Bali Volcano Alert at Highest Level

Mount Agung volcano eruption seen from Besakih Temple in Karangasem on the Indonesian island of Bali.Mount Agung volcano eruption seen from Besakih Temple in Karangasem on the Indonesian island of Bali.

A rumbling volcano on Bali could erupt at any moment, authorities warned Monday as they raised alert levels to maximum, accelerated a mass evacuation and closed the main airport, leaving thousands of tourists stranded on the Indonesian resort island.

Massive columns of thick grey smoke that have been belching from Mount Agung since last week have now begun shooting more than three kilometers (two miles) into the sky, forcing hundreds of flights to be grounded, AFP reported.

Some 40,000 frightened people have fled their homes around the volcano but as many as 100,000 will likely be forced to leave, disaster agency officials said, after raising the alert to its highest level.

The exclusion zone around Agung, which is 75 kilometers (47 miles) from the beachside tourist hub of Kuta, has also been widened to 10 kilometers.

Makeshift tents and community centers filled up Monday as nearly two dozen villages were emptied of their inhabitants, including farmers reluctant to leave precious livestock behind.

“Continuous ash puffs are sometimes accompanied by explosive eruptions and a weak booming sound,” the National Board for Disaster Management said earlier Monday.

“The rays of fire are increasingly observed at night. This indicates the potential for a larger eruption is imminent.”

Agung rumbled back to life in September, forcing the evacuation of 140,000 people living nearby. Its activity decreased in late October and many returned to their homes.

  Phreatic Eruption

However, on Saturday the mountain sent smoke up into the air for the second time in a week in what volcanologists call a phreatic eruption —caused by the heating and expansion of groundwater.

Then on Monday so-called cold lava flows appeared —similar to mud flows and often a prelude to the blazing orange lava seen in many volcanic eruptions.

“I’m very concerned because I left my house behind and I’m also worried about my family,” said 36-year-old farmer Putu Suyasa, who fled with some relatives from a village eight kilometers away from the volcano.

“The mountain is spewing thicker smoke than before.”

Mt. Agung last went off in 1963, killing around 1,600 people in one of the deadliest eruptions ever seen in a country with nearly 130 active volcanoes.

The airport in Bali’s capital Denpasar, a top holiday destination that attracts millions of foreign tourists every year, has been closed.

Some 445 flights were cancelled, affecting more than 59,000 passengers, officials said.

While there was dismay from some tourists who were unable to return to their homes and jobs, others took events in their stride.

The airport on nearby Lombok island —also a popular tourist destination east of Bali— closed on Sunday as ash from Mount Agung headed in that direction, but reopened early Monday.

The Australian government put out a travel advisory on Sunday, warning that volcanic activity “may escalate with little or no notice”.

“Past eruptions of Mount Agung have shown this volcano’s potential to cause significant impacts,” it added.


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