More than 130,000 people on the Indonesian island of Bali have fled their homes after warnings that Mount Agung volcano could erupt at any time.
They are ltaking up shelter in makeshift evacuation camps, uncertain when they will be able to return. Many live outside the 12-kilometre exclusion zone established around the crater, but have chosen to go either because they are uncertain about the precise distance of their home from the danger, or because they remember previous eruptions.
For now they have plenty of food, water and medicines, but many fear they could be in for a long wait, posing a threat to their livelihoods. The authorities are currently trying to recover some of the 30,000 cattle in the area, to minimise economic loss.
Mount Agung has been spewing white smoke and sending tremors through the surrounding area. Volcanologists say eruption is more likely than not, but cannot give any indication of timescales other than to say it is “imminent”.
The authorities aren’t taking any risks: when it last erupted in 1963, it more than 1,000 people were killed by lava flow that spread over several kilometres at great speed, but also by rivers of water and volcanic debris.
82-year-old Gusti Ayu Wati survived that eruption and thinks that the situation is better 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”.
Ring of fire
Indonesia, an archipelago, is located on on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin. It has nearly 130 active volcanoes, many with a high level of activity.
Bali is also a popular tourist destination, and the signs are that some holiday-makers are being deterred by the latest warnings despite reassurances offered by the Tourist Board.
In 2016, tourism was severely disrupted on the neighbouring island of Lombok, when a volcano erupted, sending clouds of debris and dust into the air.