By Lily Smith
Fears of Bali’s Mount Agung erupting have surfaced after the National Disaster Management Authority has issued the highest warning level. Smaller tremors were first detected in late August and officials first raised the alert from normal to vigilant on September 14th.
There has been an extreme escalation in tremors and a 200m tall stream of smoke coming from the mountains crater. Volcanologists have stated that an eruption is more likely than not, though they cannot give a timeframe. Volcanologist Gede Suantika stated, “Sometimes the intensity increases, sometimes it decreases, it’s hard to tell when the mountain will erupt.” A spokesman for the NDMA also said, “Volcanic activity remains high and there are indications of magma rising to the surface and causing tremors,” and suggested that there should be no public activity within the area.
The mountain is located in the eastern part of the popular tourist destination Bali and is 3,000m above sea level. The warning has caused an evacuation of over 135,000 people in fear of their safety. The NDMA have imposed an evacuation zone of 12 km (7.5 miles) around the volcano, though some Balinese outside of this region have also chosen to evacuate. The evacuees have relocated to over 500 locations sheltering in temporary camps, sports centres and other public buildings with authorities transporting in plenty of aid supplies.
Many fear that they will not be able to return to their homes. Though some villagers are still returning in the daytime to continue normal life. Farmers are also reportedly taking turns to return and feed the livestock that has been left behind.
Mount Agung last erupted in 1963 killing 1,100 people and remaining active for a year after. During the eruption the mountain produced lava that spread for several kilometres, as well as producing gases and clouds of scalding hot ash that were hurled 6 miles into the air. People were also killed by lahars (rivers of volcanic debris) and rock fragments that travelled down the slope of the mountain at great speed.
The area is positioned on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, that which contains more than 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes. The Ring of Fire is an area of seismic activity, volcanoes and earthquakes, around the edge of the Pacific coast. There are more than 120 active volcanoes in Indonesia, meaning that more than 75% of Indonesians live within 100 km of a Holocene volcano (a volcano that has erupted within the last 10,000 years). This is the highest percentage of any volcanic region.
The area is highly reliant on income from the tourist industry and therefore the threat of an eruption will take a severe toll on the economy. The tourism board however have released a statement reassuring tourists that flights were operating as usual and suggesting that most areas of the island are safe, excluding those surrounding Mount Agung. This said, though there has not been any volcanic ash detected, the board has suggested that visitors purchase facemasks in case of eruption.