Bali volcano alert raised to highest level


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Media captionTimelapse footage shows ash rising into the sky, disrupting flights

Fears of an imminent major eruption of Bali’s Mount Agung have increased and the evacuation zone around the volcano has been widened.

Indonesian authorities have raised the state of alert to its highest level.

The island’s airport has now closed, leaving thousands stranded in the tourist hotspot.

Dark smoke has been seen billowing up to 3,400m (11,150ft) above the mountain’s summit, which has also emitted ash puffs.

Officials have also been warning residents to stay away from rock and debris flows known as lahars, which have been spotted flowing down from the mountain.

How close is it to a major eruption?

The National Board for Disaster Management raised the alert to level four from 06:00 local time (22:00 GMT Sunday), because of “the possibility and imminent risk of disaster”.

The volcano was seen emitting “continuous ash puffs” occasionally accompanied by “explosive eruptions” and “weak booms” that could be heard 12km (7 miles) from the summit.

“The rays of fire are increasingly observed at night. This indicates the potential for a larger eruption is imminent,” it said in a statement (in Indonesian) on its Facebook page.

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Media captionWe ask an expert: Is a large volcanic eruption inevitable?

Geologist Mark Tingay of the University of Adelaide told the BBC that Mount Agung now appears to be entering the next phase with a magmatic eruption, where the glow of lava is visible from the crater.

But he added that as eruptions are difficult to predict, it was “very hard to tell” how the situation would develop. “These eruptions can be quite large and extensive and violent, but this could also be a relatively minor eruption over time”.

Should tourists be worried?

The main tourist stretch of Kuta and Seminyak is about 70km (43 miles) from the volcano, far beyond the exclusion zone.

But the ash prompted officials to shut down Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport from Monday to Tuesday morning. All flights during this period have been cancelled.

The airport on neighbouring island Lombok reopened on Monday morning after it was shut briefly.

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Holly Pelham

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Flights were cancelled at Denpasar airport on Monday

How are locals coping?

Authorities have widened the exclusion zone to a 10km (6 mile) radius from the volcano, and have ordered people in the area to evacuate.

They have also been distributing masks for local residents, as ash rains down in the vicinity.

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Reuters

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Officials said the volcano has been emitting “continuous ash puffs”

About 25,000 people are thought to still be in temporary shelters after more than 140,000 people fled in recent months.

Lahars, also known as “cold lava”, are slurries of rock fragments mixed with water, and have been spotted in fields and rivers near the volcano.

The spokesman for the national disaster management agency, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, has warned that lahars may increase due to heavy rain and as Mount Agung continues to emit pyroclastic material.

He has urged islanders to stay away from lahars as well as avoid activities near rivers.

Authorities first issued warnings of an imminent eruption and raised the alert to the highest level in September after detecting heightened volcanic activity, prompting mass evacuations.

But some islanders returned to their homes in October after the alert level was lowered with a decrease in activity.

According to official estimates, the holiday island lost at least $110m (£83m) in tourism and productivity during that major evacuation.

Is this common for Indonesia?

The volcano first began belching thick smoke last week – its first eruption in more than 50 years.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where tectonic plates collide, causing frequent seismic and volcanic activity.

It is home to more than 130 active volcanoes.

Indonesia: Volcano nation

The last time Mount Agung erupted, in 1963, more than 1,000 people died.

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Media captionSurvivors of the 1963 eruption on the last time Mount Agung erupted

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