Fear of volcanic eruption on Bali forces nearly 135,000 to flee to shelters

KARANGASEM, Indonesia (Reuters) – Nearly 135,000 people on the Indonesian island of Bali have left their homes and taken shelter in makeshift evacuation centers after warnings the Mount Agung volcano could erupt at any time, officials said late on Thursday.

Spewing white smoke and sending tremors through the area, Mount Agung’s alert status was raised to the highest level last week. Since then, tens of thousands of villagers have abandoned their homes beneath the menacing volcano.

The national disaster management agency said many people have fled because they are unsure of their proximity to a 12 km (seven miles) exclusion zone imposed around the crater.

Evacuees are being housed in tents, school gyms, and government buildings in neighboring villages.

While there are plentiful stocks of food, water, medicines, and other supplies, evacuees fear they are in for a long wait that could disrupt their livelihoods.

One farmer said he was worried that lava flows could destroy his house and farm.

“If my house is destroyed I don’t know how to restart my life. I don’t know where my kids will sleep and all I can do now is pray,” said Gusti Gege Astana, 40.

Officials also noted there are around 30,000 cattle within the danger zone around the volcano, and efforts are being made to move the livestock as it is an important source of income for many residents.

More than 1,000 people were killed the last time Mount Agung erupted, in 1963.

A man holds his dog on a leash outside a tent at a temporary evacuation center for people living near Mount Agung, a volcano on the highest alert level, in Manggis, on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia, September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

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. Many of these show high levels of activity but it can be weeks or even months before an actual eruption.

A boy plays in portable showers being assembled at a temporary evacuation center for people living near Mount Agung, a volcano on the highest alert level, in Manggis, on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia, September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

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