Bali volcano: Indonesia fears imminent Mt Agung eruption

Indonesia has warned that the active volcano on the tourist island of Bali is entering a “critical phase”, amid fears of an imminent eruption.

Hundreds of tremors were recorded on Monday at Mount Agung, in an increase of volcanic activity.

But officials also stressed they could not predict when it might erupt.

More than 57,000 people living near the mountain have been evacuated from their homes, and the area is under the highest level volcano alert.

Media captionIs Bali volcano about to erupt?

Indonesia’s national disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told reporters on Monday that “volcanic activity is increasing, and tremors are being becoming more frequent”.

He added: “There is a definite possibility that it will erupt, however we don’t know when it will happen.”

More than 560 volcanic tremors were detected on Monday alone, according to the national volcanology centre.

  • What’s happening at Mt Agung?

Officials started detecting shallow tremors in late August. Within days the volcano showed increasing signs of activity, and authorities stepped up their alerts and evacuations of the rural villages surrounding the mountain.

Thousands are now living in temporary shelters at town halls and schools after authorities imposed a 12km (7.5-mile) exclusion zone around the mountain.

‘Feverish offerings’

Rebecca Henschke, Editor, BBC Indonesian

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Hindu worshippers performed a ritual ceremony inside the danger zone on Monday

When Mount Agung rumbles, the Balinese believe the gods are angry. Everything on the island exists in relation to the giant volcano.

Some religious leaders say tourists behaving badly and disrespecting customs are to blame for its current activity.

Now, in temples across Bali, feverish offerings are being made. And in some villages inside the danger zone, people are waiting for spiritual signs from priests and those believed to able to communicate with the volcano, before coming down.

The government is telling them to leave now. The last time Agung erupted in 1963, people had just minutes to flee.

Concern for livestock is stopping some people from leaving this time. And there are farmers who are returning daily to the danger zone so they can feed animals they can’t take with them.

A local animal rights group is trying to help, evacuating animals left behind or releasing them so they can at least run.

The national disaster agency said in its Tuesday statement (link in Indonesian) that 57,428 people had moved out of their homes and some had been received in “sister villages”, which are neighbouring villages prepared to receive evacuees.

It added that volunteers were helping to evacuate cattle from the danger zone.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A sports arena in Klungklung at Bali has been converted into a temporary shelter

The island’s main tourist areas of Kuta and Seminyak, which are about 70km from the mountain, remain unaffected for now. Flight operations are also normal.

Several countries including Britain, Australia and Singapore have issued travel advisories for their citizens, warning of possible flight disruption and evacuations.

More than 1,000 people died when Mount Agung last erupted in 1963.

Mount Agung is among about 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia – an archipelago prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes as it sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”.