Indonesia orders immediate evacuation as highest alert issued for Bali volcano

DENPASAR, Indonesia (Reuters) - Indonesia closed the airport on the tourist island of Bali on Monday and ordered 100,000 residents living near a glowing volcano spewing columns of ash to evacuate immediately, warning that the first major eruption in 54 years could be “imminent”.

The airport was closed for 24 hours from Monday morning, disrupting 445 flights and some 59,000 passengers, after Mount Agung, which killed hundreds of people in 1963, sent volcanic ash high into the sky, and officials said cancellations could be extended.

“Plumes of smoke are occasionally accompanied by explosive eruptions and the sound of weak blasts that can be heard up to 12 km (7 miles) from the peak,” the Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said in a statement after raising the alert from three to its highest level of four.

“The potential for a larger eruption is imminent,” it said, referring to a visible glow of magma at Mount Agung’s peak overnight, and warning residents to evacuate a danger zone at a radius of 8-10 km (5-6 miles).

See photos of the massive volcano:

17 PHOTOS
Mount Agung volcano erupting in Bali
See Gallery
Mount Agung volcano erupting in Bali
A view of Mount Agung volcano erupting from Culik village in Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia November 27, 2017. REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo
A villager walks as Mount Agung volcano erupts in the background in Kubu, Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia on November 27, 2017. REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo
A tourist watches as Mount Agung volcano erupts at Lempuyang Temple in Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia November 27, 2017. REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo
Farmers tend their crops as Mount Agung erupts in the background in Amed, Karangasem Regency, Bali, Indonesia, November 27, 2017. REUTERS/Nyimas Laula TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A villager walks as Mount Agung volcano erupts in the background in Kubu, Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia November 27, 2017. REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo
A villager walks as Mount Agung volcano erupts in the background in Kubu, Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia on November 27, 2017. REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo
A view of Mount Agung volcano erupting from Kubu, in Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia, November 27, 2017. REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo
Foreign tourists take pictures as Mount Agung erupts at Besakih Temple in Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia on November 26, 2017. REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo
Mount Agung volcano erupts as seen from Culik Village, Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia November 26, 2017 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Nyoman Budhiana/ via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.?
Tourists watch the eruption of Mount Agung at a restaurant on Jemeluk Beach, Amed, Karangasem, Bali, November 26, 2017 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Nyoman Budhiana/ via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
Mount Agung volcano erupts, as seen from Culik Village, Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia November 26, 2017 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Nyoman Budhiana/ via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN INDONESIA.
A woman uses an umbrella as she walks through ash from Mount Agung volcano during an eruptiuon in Bebandem Village, Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia November 26, 2017 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. 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.
Mount Agung volcano erupts as seen from Glumpang village, Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia November 26, 2017. REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo
Mount Agung volcano is seen erupting from Glumpang village, Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia November 26, 2017. REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo
Indonesia's Mount Agung volcano erupts as seen from Amed, Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia November 26, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Colreavy
Villagers watch as Mount Agung volcano spews ash during an eruption from the Volcanic Observatory in Rendang Village, Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia November 26, 2017. REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Sutopo, a BNPB spokesman, said there had been no casualties so far and 40,000 people had left the area, but tens of thousands still needed to move.

Video footage shared by the agency showed volcanic mud flows (lahar) on the mountainside. Lahar carrying mud and large boulders can destroy houses, bridges and roads in its path.

Bali, famous for its surf, beaches and temples, attracted nearly 5 million visitors last year, and its airport serves as a transport hub for the chain of islands in Indonesia’s eastern archipelago.

But tourism has slumped in parts of Bali since September when Agung’s volcanic tremors began to increase and the alert level was raised to maximum before being lowered in October when seismic activity calmed.

“I‘m not worried (but) my friends in Russia are a little bit,” said a Russian tourist, who only wanted to be identified as Dmitry, at an observation post in Rendang in Bali’s east.

Agung rises majestically over eastern Bali to a height of just over 3,000 meters (9,800 feet). Northeastern Bali is relatively undeveloped compared to the more heavily populated southern tourist hub of Kuta-Seminyak-Nusa Dua.

(For an interactive package on Agung eruptions, click tmsnrt.rs/2AayRVh)

EXPLOSIVE ERUPTION

Indonesia’s Vulcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Centre (PVMBG), which is using drones, satellite imagery and other equipment, said predictions were difficult in the absence of instrumental recordings from the last eruption 54 years ago.

In 1963, an eruption of Agung killed more than 1,000 people and razed several villages by hurling out pyroclastic material, hot ash, lava and lahar.

Recordings now show the northeast area of Agung’s peak has swollen in recent weeks “indicating there is fairly strong pressure toward the surface”, PVMBG said.

It warned that if a similar eruption occurred, it could send rocks bigger than fist-size up to 8 km (5 miles) from the summit and volcanic gas to a distance of 10 km (6 miles) within three minutes.

Some analysis, however, suggests the threat should not be as great this time because “energy at Mount Agung’s magma chamber is not as big” and the ash column only around a quarter as high so far as the 20 km (12 miles) reached in 1963, Sutopo said.

(For a graphic on Pacific Ring of Fire, click tmsnrt.rs/2AzR9jv)

“CHECK-INS CLOSED”

Bali airport, about 60 km (37 miles) from the volcano, will be closed for 24 hours, its operator said.

The Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre (VAAC) in Darwin, Australia, said ash was “confirmed on the ground” at the airport as well as ash at FL300 (which refers to flight level at 30,000 feet) in the vicinity of the volcano.

Ash is expected to cover much of Bali, parts of the neighboring islands of Lombok and Java as winds blow to the southwest, VACC maps indicated.

Ten alternative airports have been prepared for airlines to divert inbound flights, including in neighboring provinces. The airport operator said it was providing buses to take travelers to ferry ports for alternative travel arrangements.

The island is served by many neighboring airlines. Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd said it was cancelling flights on Tuesday, while Jetstar was offering to exchange Bali bound tickets for other destinations.

Television footage showed hundreds of holidaymakers camped inside the airport terminal, some sleeping on their bags, others using mobile telephones.

“We have been here (in Bali) for three days we are about to leave today, but just found out our flights have been canceled. We have got no information because the gates, the check-ins, have been closed indefinitely,” said Carlo Oben from Los Angeles.

TRAVEL INSURANCE

Cover-More, Australia’s biggest travel insurer, said on its website customers would only be covered if they had bought policies before the volcano alert was first issued on Sept. 18.

Indonesia’s hotel and restaurant association said stranded tourists at member hotels would get one night’s free stay.

The main airport on Lombok had reopened after the transport ministry said “no volcanic ash was detected”.

Airlines avoid flying when volcanic ash is present because it can cause significant damage to engines and can clog fuel and cooling systems and hamper visibility.

In June 1982, a British Airways 747 suffered severe damage and had all four engines flame out after encountering ash from Mount Galunggung in Indonesia. It descended to 12,000 feet before being able to restart some engines and make an emergency landing in Jakarta.

Additonal reporting by Reuters Bali stringer in DENPASAR, Angie Teo, Fransiska Nangoy and Bernadette Christina Munthe in JAKARTA and Jamie Freed in SINGAPORE; Writing by Ed Davies and Fergus Jensen; Editing by Michael Perry and Nick Macfie

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.