THE NUMBER of tremors recorded at Bali’s Mt Agung volcano has increased again late Saturday after a lull during the morning.
Authorities say they still cannot predict when the mountain will erupt but with the threat level at its highest, an emergency response period has been declared.
And Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport (Denpasar International Airport) is preparing an emergency operations centre, in the event of an eruption closing the busy airport.
The Operations Section Head of I Gusti Ngurah Rai Airport, Misranedi, said today that airports in Lombok and Surabaya, in East Java, were being prepared as alternatives, assuming they too were not affected.
Misranedi said that taxis and buses would be provided to take people to the Padangbai seaport so they could go by boat to Lombok or Surabaya.
“We are preparing our emergency operation center (EOC). In the EOC, we will coordinate with the BMKG, Air Navigation, and all related parties. When the eruption happens and the airport must be closed, we have prepared alternative airports, such as Lombok airport and Juanda airport. I hope the two airport will not be affected by the eruption,” Misranedi said.
According to police almost 28,000 villagers living Mt Agung volcano have now been evacuated to shelters.
Hundreds of tremors, from deep within Mt Agung, are now being recorded daily as the majestic mountain rumbles into action for the first time in five decades.
In the 12 hours, from midnight on Friday until noon today, a total of 198 tremors were recorded.
The threat level was increased to four on Friday night, by the Centre for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation agency, the third time in the past week the level has been raised.
And the exclusion zone was doubled to 12km from the summit, a calculation based on the track of ash cloud and lava from the last time Mt Agung erupted, back in 1963.
The head of the Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation ( PVMBG), Kasbani, said today that very small tremors had been detected at Mt Agung since its last eruption in 1963. These started to increase markedly last month and this month had reached an extreme level.
“Four days after we raised the alert level to level three, (earlier this week) there were extraordinary tremors … the biggest since 1963. So, we raised the alert level to level four,” Hasbani said.
Early on Saturday the tremors had started to decrease but by the afternoon were increasing again.
“We could not predict when the mountain will erupt,” he said.
Nor could they predict how long the eruption will last. But based on the 1963 eruption, it could be erupting for a year.
“However, we don’t know whether the eruption now will be bigger or smaller. If we see the eruption in 1963, it could take one year,” Hasbani said.
He said the 1963 eruption had seen hot ash clouds gush out with extraordinary speed, reaching 14km to the north, 12km to the southeast and 12km to the south and southwest.
At that time, rocks and lava the size of a human head had rained down.
The National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) head, Willem Rampangilei, said all people in the region 9-12km from the mountain must evacuate.
“We have prepared 500,000 masks to anticipate volcanic ash which is very important, because the ash is very dangerous,” Rampangilei said today.
“This is a very complex work. We should work hard to minimise victims. We keep hoping that the eruption will not happen. However, we should be ready for the best scenario if the eruption does happen,” he said.
“We have declared that we are in emergency response period for next one month. I hope, the eruption will not happen.”
DFAT has updated its travel advisory, warning tourists to monitor the situation closely and follow instructions of officials, saying an eruption could impact air travel.
Bali tourist officials have also become frustrated at exaggerated reporting causing panic among tourists. Mt Agung is about 72km from the densely populated tourist district of Kuta and concern is highest for those locals living in the villages surrounding the mountain itself. The main concern for tourists is the expected closure of the airport and delayed flights should the mountain erupt.
Indonesian media is reporting that wild animals — including snakes and apes — are panicked by the stirring volcano and moving through settled areas.
It’s been a growing trend over the past three days, the Tribun Kaltim news service says.
“It may be hot on Mount Agung. So the animals (come) out and to the settlement,” it reports district identity Jro Mangku as saying.
Men from a traditional village in the volcano’s shadow believe the descent of animals from the top of the mountain is one of “seven signs” an eruption will occur. Small numbers begin to move up to three months before an eruption.
“Maybe this is a sign — the sign of the mountain will erupt. This condition is not as usual,” Jro Mangku reportedly said.
Such an animal exodus was observed before Mount Agung’s previous eruption in 1963.
Other signs locals have come to expect before an eruption are yet to emerge. For example, there is no evidence of fine ash yet, which can cause skin to itch.
The Volcano Observatory Notice for Aviation reports the volcano’s seismic activity has 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.
Earlier, the Department of Meteorology, Climate and Geophysics said in a statement there has been a “tremendous increase” in seismic activity at the mountain, indicating a greater probability of an eruption.
Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said overnight that the hazardous zone had been increased from 9km to 12km, covering an area encompassing about 240,000 people and prompting further evacuations. He urged people to “calm down” and seek reliable information.
“Estimated danger zones are dynamic and are being continuously evaluated. (They) are subject to change at any time following the most recent observation data,” Indonesia’s volcano observation authority warned.
Indonesia’s volcano monitoring body, MAGMA, warns Mount Agung’s eruptions are characteristicly explosive and effusive — resulting in deadly pyroclastic flows of ash, rock and lava.
“In case of eruption, the potential primary hazard that may occur within a radius of 9km is pyroclastic fall of size equal to or greater than 6cm,” its website states.
But its modelling for some of the terrain around the volcano also shows such flows could cover 10km in less than 3 minutes.
“If an eruption occurs, there is considerable disaster potential,” it warns. “People around Mount Agung also do not have enough experience to face the eruption because this volcano last erupted … 54 years ago.”
Agung last erupted in 1963, unpleasing deadly pyroclastic flows which killed about 1100 people and hurling ash as high as 10 kilometres.
It is just one of 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia, part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire” convergence of tectonic plates.
Emeritus professor Richard John Arculus of Australian National University has published a blog saying Mount Agung has produced some of the largest eruptions of the past 100 years.
“Our ability to predict eruptions has improved dramatically since this last event, so we can hope such a death toll will not occur again,” he writes.
“A primary line of evidence is the frequency and locations of earthquakes beneath the volcano, caused by upward flowing magma. Swelling and inflation of the volcano coupled with measurements of the temperatures and composition of gases emerging from the crater also give clues as to the likelihood of an eruption.
“So there is no need to be caught unawares by Mt Agung, providing the advice of the authorities, armed with expert assessments, is followed.”