Rising fear of volcanic eruption on Bali forces 100,000 to flee to shelters

KARANGASEM, Indonesia (Reuters) - Warned that an increasingly active volcano could erupt any time, the number of people taking shelter in makeshift evacuation centers on the Indonesian island of Bali has surged to around 104,000, officials said 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 been urged to abandon their homes beneath the menacing volcano.

The national disaster management agency has housed evacuees 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.

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Residents flee Mount Agung
A woman holds her child inside a temporary evacuation center for people living near Mount Agung, a volcano on the highest alert level, inside a sports arena in Klungkung, on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia, September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside
Villagers rest at a temporary evacuation center for people living near Mount Agung, a volcano on the highest alert level, inside a sports arena in Klungkung, on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia, September 28, 2017 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Nyoman Budhiana via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
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
A woman sleeps inside a temporary evacuation center for people living near Mount Agung, a volcano on the highest alert level, inside a sports arena in Klungkung, on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia, September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside
Mount Agung, a volcano on the highest alert level, is seen from Kubu, on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia, September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside
Mount Agung, a volcano on the highest alert level, is seen as fishermen carry a boat onto the beach in Amed on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia, September 28, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside
Villagers rest at a temporary evacuation center for people living near Mount Agung, a volcano on the highest alert level, inside a sports arena in Klungkung, on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia, September 28, 2017 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Nyoman Budhiana via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
A view of Mount Agung, a volcano on the highest alert level, as the sun rises from Amed on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia, September 26, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside
A man rests at a temporary evacuation center for people living near Mount Agung, a volcano on the highest alert level, inside a sports arena in Klungkung, on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia, September 24, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside
Villagers rests at a temporary evacuation centre, for people living near Mount Agung, a volcano on the highest alert level, inside a sports arena in Klungkung, on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia, September 24, 2017 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Picture taken September 24, 2017. Antara Foto/Fikri Yusuf via REUTERS. ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
A boy that evacuated a village located along the slopes of Mount Agung, a day after the volcano's alert status was raised to the highest level, rests at a temporary shelter in Rendang, on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia September 23, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside
KARANGASEM, BALI, INDONESIA - SEPTEMBER 28: People gather as they wait their transport to a temporary shelter at Sibetan village on September 28, 2017 in Karangasem regency, Island of Bali, Indonesia. Indonesian authorities declared a state of emergency as hundreds of tremors are recorded at Bali's Mount Agung volcano and around 120,000 villagers evacuated their homes. Authorities issued travel warnings for the popular tourist destination and warned Mount Agung has the potential to erupt imminently although flights to Bali and its main tourist areas remain unaffected for now. (Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)
KLUNGKUNG, BALI, INDONESIA - SEPTEMBER 28: (EDITOR'S NOTE: Image was created as an Equirectangular Panorama. Import image into a panoramic player to create an interactive 360 degree view) Wayan Jumu family inside their tent at temporary shelter on September 28, 2017 in Klungkung regency, Island of Bali, Indonesia. Indonesian authorities declared a state of emergency as hundreds of tremors are recorded at Bali's Mount Agung volcano and around 120,000 villagers evacuated their homes. Authorities issued travel warnings for the popular tourist destination and warned Mount Agung has the potential to erupt imminently although flights to Bali and its main tourist areas remain unaffected for now. (Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)
BALI, INDONESIA - SEPTEMBER 28: A general view of Mount Agung is seen as Indonesians ramble at Lempuyang Temple in Lempuyang village of Karangasem Regency, Bali, Indonesia on September 28, 2017. After Mount Agung's alert phase reached critical, the tourist destination and the local Hindus praying place Lempuyang Temple is now deserted from tourists. (Photo by Mahendra Moonstar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BALI, INDONESIA - SEPTEMBER 27: The Mount Agung is seen as Indonesians leave the danger-zone due to the volcanic activities of Mount Agung in Karangasem Regency, Bali, Indonesia, on September 27, 2017. Seismic activity below Mount Agung has been growing over recent weeks, with hundreds of tremors every day. Over the weekend, a plume of smoke has been seen rising from the crater. Nearly 75.000 people have fled the area around the crater and the alert was raised to the highest level on 22nd of September. (Photo by Agoes Rudianto/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BALI, INDONESIA - 2017/09/26: Villagers rest in a tent at a temporary shelter for people who were evacuated from their villages located on the slopes of Mount Agung. Due to its increased volcanic activity, Mount Agung and the surrounding areas are on high alert. More than 75,000 people have evacuated their home since the Indonesian authorities raised the alert for the Volcano Mount Agung as it threatens to erupt anytime for the first time since 1963. Villagers are now displaced in temporary shelter for an indefinite period as flight transportation to Bali are not affected for now. (Photo by Alexandra Radu/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
BALI, INDONESIA - SEPTEMBER 27: An Indonesian child, evacuated from his home due to the volcanic activities of Mount Agung, receives a medical treatment as he sits on the ground inside of a temporary shelter in Karangasem Regency, Bali, Indonesia, on September 27, 2017. Seismic activity below Mount Agung has been growing over recent weeks, with hundreds of tremors every day. Over the weekend, a plume of smoke has been seen rising from the crater. Nearly 75.000 people have fled the area around the crater and the alert was raised to the highest level on 22nd of September. (Photo by Agoes Rudianto/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
BALI, INDONESIA - SEPTEMBER 26 : A view of Mount Agung volcanic with small eruption seen from Karangasem sea on September 26, 2017 in Bali, Indonesia. About 50,000 residents flee a rumbling volcano on the Indonesian island of Bali and planes take on extra fuel in case it blows. PHOTOGRAPH BY Sijori Images / Barcroft Images (Photo credit should read Sijori Images / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
KARANGASEM, BALI, INDONESIA - SEPTEMBER 26: A view of mount Agung on September 26, 2017 in Karangasem regency, Island of Bali, Indonesia. Indonesian authorities raised the alert level for the Mount Agung volcano to the highest level as nearly 50,000 villagers around the mountain evacuated their homes and travel warnings have issued for the popular tourist destination. Indonesian authorities warned Mount Agung has the potential to erupt imminently although flights to Bali and its main tourist areas remain unaffected for now. (Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)
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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.

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.

Bali is famous for its beaches and temples and saw nearly 5 million visitors last year, mainly from China, Australia, and Japan.

Some tourists, however, were having second thoughts about their holiday plans after several countries, including Singapore and Australia, issued travel advisories warning of the risk from the volcano.

Bali's tourism department on Thursday issued a letter reassuring travelers, and noting that flights were operating normally.

"The island is safe except for areas around Mount Agung. We urge tourists to continue visiting," the letter said.

The transportation minister said on Wednesday that Bali-bound flights could be diverted to 10 airports across the country in case of an eruption.

Ash clouds from volcanic eruptions have disrupted tourism in Bali and other parts of Indonesia in recent years. Hundreds of domestic and international flights were disrupted in 2016 when a volcano erupted on Bali's neighboring Lombok island, sending columns of ash and debris into the air.

(Additional reporting by Jakarta bureau; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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