Bali volcano: Thousands flee on tourist island as smoke from Mount Agung revives eruption fears

Our Foreign Staff

Tourists were stuck in holiday limbo on Monday as an "imminent" eruption on the island of Bali saw more than 440 flights cancelled, with thousands facing a long, hard night's sleep on airport floors.

The panic began when Mount Agung spurted clouds of grey and white ash across the Indonesian island and sparked a dangerous flow of debris, prompting fears it was on the verge of its first major eruption in more than 50 years.

As the ash clouds reached heights of almost 10,000 feet, with glowing magma visible at the peak, 40,000 people were evacuated from the surrounding area. Disaster agency workers said that a total of 100,000 people would need to be evacuated, while officials warned the island was on "maximum alert."

"We've been here since around 8am, we didn't know anything about the cancellation," Janeen McKay, who was anxious to get back to western Australia where she cares for her 80-year-old mother, told The Telegraph.

"My other sister ‎is now caring for her so my sister and me can have some holiday here. I just need to go home."

She added: "We didn't know anything about free accommodation, we heard nothing. I am 51 years old; it's not comfortable to sleep on the hard floor."

Bali Volcano - Mount Agung

"I am not worry so much for me about the eruption, but I do feel for the locals who lost their homes. For me, it's just the flight delay."

Several British tourists were also caught up in the chaos, among them Sarah Murphy, 40, and Tina Lucke, 31.

After their Emirates flight to London Gatwick via Dubai was cancelled, they were re-booked onto the next available flight on Tuesday - only for that flight to be grounded amid uncertainty as to when Denpasar airport would re-open.

The pair, who arrived on Bali on November 16, are staying in Padang Padang and are not near the volcano.

"I have spoken with quite a few tourists today who are in similar positions," Ms Murphy said. "Some people staying here now were in Ubud and were apparently told to get over this side of the island because if it (the volcano) blows, then Ubud will be impossible to get out of because it's so busy with traffic.

"Some other tourists I spoke to couldn't get hold of their airlines so had no idea what was happening or when or how they would leave."

In a twist of irony, 31-year-old German tourist Noémi Galas said she been assured by a tour guide that there was no risk of Mount Agung erupting during a visit to another volcano nearby. 

"I went to to Mount Batur and saw the crater. My guide told me that there was another volcano that is actually active at the moment," she told The Telegraph. 

"He said don't worry, nothing will happen, it won't erupt. Now I am here."

Mount Agung volcano on Bali spewed ash and steam today—but volcanologists say the eruption was caused by magma heating water, not the more dangerous eruption of magma itself: https://t.co/9rzurzbPpMpic.twitter.com/JBZedX4Zwc

— ABC News (@ABC) November 21, 2017

"It was actually my friend who told me that my flight was cancelled, I didn't know anything. I checked in yesterday online, all was fine. I checked the website there was nothing. So I came here. They told me maybe tomorrow, just maybe tomorrow, I don't know anything else."

Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency said on Monday that the volcano’s eruptions were magmatic, meaning that lava has been forced to the surface. Blasts from the volcano were heard miles away.

An agency spokesman said evacuation orders have been issued but some residents had refused to flee because they felt safe or wanted to tend to their livestock.

"We really ask people in the danger zone to evacuate immediately because there's a potential for a bigger eruption," said a spokesman for the agency.

“Authorities will comb the area to persuade them. If needed we will forcibly evacuate them.”

Bali, an island lined with beaches and lush jungles and rainforests, is the most popular tourist destination in Indonesia and attracts about five million visitors a year. More than 220,000 British tourists visited last year.

Indonesian authorities have arranged bus transport for tourists stranded at Bali’s airport and organised a free night’s accommodation. Many of the stranded tourists were expected to leave the island by ferry.

“We now have to find a hotel and spend more of our money that they're not going to cover us for when we get home unfortunately," Brandon Olsen, a Canadian tourist stranded at the airport with his girlfriend, told Associated Press.

Volcano Agung's eruption hazards

A passenger wrote on the Facebook page of the airline Jetstar: "I was supposed to start a new job today but instead I am here in Bali wondering when I will be able to get home."

Video footage showed large trails of volcanic mud – or lahars – running down the hillside. These can collect debris and rocks which can destroy houses and roads.

Mount Agung, in eastern Bali, has been threatening to erupt for some time, prompting an evacuation of 140,000  people in September. The alert was lowered on October 29 as the activity decreased but was raised again three weeks later.

Indonesia’s Vulcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Centre told Reuters the northeast area of Mount Agung’s peak has swollen in recent weeks “indicating there is fairly strong pressure toward the surface”. It said that a large eruption could send rocks bigger than fists up to  five miles  away and volcanic gas to a distance of six miles within three minutes.

The volcano's last major eruption in 1963 killed more than 1,000 people.

 

 

 

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