Thousands of people are fleeing Bali’s Mount Agung precinct in eastern Indonesia, with the volcano threatening to erupt at any moment.
The warning was raised to the maximum level four on Friday night, which means a hazardous eruption is imminent for the first time in 54 years. This could happen within 24 hours.
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Locals reported monkeys and snakes fleeing the mountain.
People have also been told to evacuate from within a nine- to 12-kilometre radius after smoke was detected rising 100 metres from the summit on Friday night.
The airport is still operating but a series of tremors increasing in intensity has shaken the area surrounding Mt Agung in recent days.
Mt Agung, which is 71km from the tourist destination of Kuta, last erupted in 1963, killing 1100 people. The large volcano has a peak 10,000 feet above sea level.
The Volcano Observatory Notice for Aviation said seismic activity had dramatically increased. “This number of seismicity is an unprecedented seismic observation at Agung volcano ever recorded by our seismic networks,” it said in a statement.
It said its monitoring data and analysis indicated an increased probability of eruption but it could not estimate exactly when it would take place.
New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade last updated its travel advice for Bali on Tuesday, when the volcanic alert level was raised to three. At the time, MFAT said that in the event of volcanic ash clouds, New Zealanders travelling to or from Bali were advised to confirm travel arrangements before going to the airport.
If travel was disrupted, people should keep all receipts to support travel insurance claims. New Zealanders in Bail were advised to update their registration information, or if not registered, to do so.
House of Travel commercial director Brent Thomas said “thousands” of Kiwis might be affected.
“We have to keep monitoring it very closely to see what impact it may have,” he said. “It’s something to be very aware of.”
Private school holidays were starting this coming week, with state school holidays starting the week after.
After the winter New Zealand had just been through, many people had been booking trips, particularly starting from the middle of the coming week, Thomas said.
He expected many customers would be asking advice for about what they should do.
“No doubt customers will be concerned. My best advice is to stay close to your travel agent as they will be able to keep you informed as events unfold.”
Nicole Saunders, who is holidaying on Bali, said the coast where she was staying was “pretty deserted”. She was at Amed – east of the volcano and just outside the evacuation zone.
She was due to fly back to Auckland on Sunday and had decided to head to Seminyak, at the southern end of Bali near the capital Denpasar, a day early.
“We’ve experienced quite a number of tremors over the last 24 hours,” she said. “Finding a driver wasn’t easy – many don’t want to leave their family and are nervous to be on the roads. Most tourists seem to have packed up and headed away from the area.”
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs today issued an updated travel warning for Indonesia that said an eruption could impact air travel in the region. “Contact your airline or tour operator to confirm travel plans,” it said.
National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho announced on Friday night that the warning level had been raised from level three to level four.
“With the expansion of the hazardous zone area, the refugees will increase,” he said. Sutopo urged people to “calm down” and not be provoked by misleading information.
The Centre for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation said on Friday night evacuations from the affected area should begin immediately.
About 500 tremors were recorded in the region of Mount Agung on Friday between 6am and 6pm local time, with the highest measuring 3.6. The tremor was 29km deep.
Evacuees, who are living in tents or sports centres, need assistance with nappies, sanitary napkins and baby food. There is also a huge demand for public toilets.
Locals were reportedly attempting to sell their cattle for half the usual price on Friday morning before evacuating.
Emeritus Professor Richard John Arculus from the Australian National University wrote that although infrequent, eruptions of Mount Agung have been among the largest of the past 100 years of global volcanic activity.
“Mount Agung is one of many similar volcanoes in Indonesia and the ring of fire surrounding the Pacific and eastern Indian oceans,” he wrote on upi.com.
“But during its sporadic eruptions, Agung has been one of the most prominent injectors of volcanic ash and sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere.”
Arculus said the ability to predict eruptions had improved dramatically and it was hoped the high death toll of 1963 would not occur again.
The 1963 eruption was also preceded by earthquakes. Lava and small explosions of volcanic ash began in February leading to a major explosion on March 17.
There was an eruption of similar intensity in 1843 and several in the 16th to 18th centuries.