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Evacuation centres, hotels fill up as Bali eruption looms
By Sonny Tumbelaka
Karangasem, Indonesia (AFP) Nov 28, 2017

Bali's Mt. Agung volcano threatening to blow its top: experts
Paris (AFP) Nov 27 - Indonesian authorities have raised a maximum alert as Mount Agung on Bali -- an island that attracted nearly five million tourists last year -- threatens to erupt.

Here's what experts say:

- Already erupting? -

Short answer: 'Yes' -- but things could get much worse.

"What we are seeing at the moment are small explosions, throwing out hot gases and fragments of molten rock, or ash," explained David Pyle, a volcano expert at the University of Oxford in Britain.

"The Agung volcano commenced a sustained ash eruption on Saturday, with plumes reaching 3,000 metres (nearly two miles) high," explained Mark Tingay, a geologist at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

"The eruption has now moved on to the next, more severe phase, where viscous lava can trap gasses under pressure, potentially leading to an explosion."

- Major eruption? -

Several scientists remarked that Agung's recent behaviour matches the buildup to the devastating 1963 blast that left 1,600 people dead and ejected enough debris -- about a billion metric tonnes -- to lower global average temperatures a notch (0.2 - 0.3 degrees Celsius) for about a year.

"Based on what we saw in 1963, the present activity is quite similar to the start of that eruption," said Pyle.

"The probability of a large eruption is high, but this may take some days or weeks to unfold."

David Rothery, a professor at The Open University in Britain, also sees a step-change on the horizon.

"The volcano might at last be delivering the large eruption that has been feared for several weeks," he said.

Jacques-Marie Bardintzeff, a volcanologist at Paris-Sud University, said that "all the warning lights are red."

"My Indonesian colleagues and I think that Agung will erupt," he told AFP.

Other scientists were more cautious.

"We are still far from being able to forecast how eruptions are going to develop," said Carmen Solana, a volcanologist at the University of Portsmouth in England. "It could rapidly increase in activity and produce a vast eruption, or it could die down."

- Worst case? -

"The worst case scenario would be a repeat of the 1963 eruption, perhaps a little be larger," Pyle told AFP.

"The main areas that will need to be evacuated are 10-12 kilometres (6-7.5 miles) from the volcano," he said. "There won't be a need for the whole island to be evacuated."

Bali -- home to more than four million people and tens of thousands of tourists at any given time -- is four times the area of Greater London.

Were Agung to blow its top, impacts would range from sulphur ash and potentially deadly lava flows to loss of tourism, the island's top source of revenue.

"Air-fall ash is a respiratory hazard, kills crops, makes roofs collapse and can turn into devastating mudflows -- known as lahars -- as soon as it rains," said Rothery.

While not toxic, ash is also a serious hazard to aircraft, and the reason all fights have been grounded at Bali's international airport.

On runways, ash can make a plane slide out of control during takeoff and landing.

"But the main risk is to the engines," said Guy Gratton, a visiting professor at britain's Cranfield University. It can solidify onto an engine's turbine blades, "reducing the efficiency, and potentially stopping it."

A big blast would also produce "hot rock avalanches" down the flanks of the volcano, said Mike Burton, a professor at the University of Manchester in England.

As the region enters its rainy season, the risk of mud-and-ash flows increases too.

"They are extremely hazardous as they can flow quickly for long distances, scouring the land and damaging infrastructure, as well as posing a threat to life," said Burton.

Evacuation centres and hotels in Bali filled up Tuesday with thousands seeking refuge as a volcano on the Indonesian resort island threatened to explode in a major eruption, forcing the airport to close for a second day.

Stranded tourists hunted for accommodation while frightened villagers living in Mount Agung's shadow made their way to more than 200 evacuation centres as the mountain belched smoke and ash.

The rumbling volcano -- which last erupted in 1963, killing around 1,600 people -- forced authorities to close Bali's airport again Tuesday as experts raised the alert level to maximum.

Towering columns of thick grey smoke have been rising from the crater since last week, and in the last few days have begun shooting as high as four kilometres (2.5 miles), forcing all flights to be grounded until at least Wednesday.

Ash is dangerous for planes as it makes runways slippery and can be sucked into their engines.

The volcano, which looms over one of the world's top holiday spots, could produce a thunderous eruption at any moment, officials have warned.

"The potential is there because magma is at the surface," said Kasbani, the head of the country's volcanology centre, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

Some 40,000 people have abandoned their homes in the danger zone but as many as many as 100,000 will likely be forced to leave, disaster agency officials have said.

There is a 10 kilometre exclusion zone around Agung, which is 75 kilometres from the beachside tourist hub of Kuta.

As of Tuesday around 440 flights had been cancelled, affecting more than 120,000 passengers in Bali, which attracts millions of foreign tourists every year.

"We are supposed to go back to Germany via Singapore on (Friday) but the situation seems not good," said marooned student Alex Thamm.

"Is it dangerous here? Do you think [the volcano] will explode?"

- 'Nobody's fault' -

Inn operator I Wayan Yastina Joni was among the few hoteliers willing to answer an appeal by Bali's governor and tourism agency to supply free rooms to out-of-luck visitors, though some offered discounts.

"This is nobody's fault," said the owner of the Pondok Denayu Homestay. "It's a natural disaster that no one expected."

Hundreds of visitors joined the mad rush to board buses headed to an international airport in Indonesia's second-biggest city Surabaya -- 13 hours' drive and a ferry ride away -- as torrential rain dampened spirits in the beach paradise.

The airport on nearby Lombok island -- also a popular tourist destination -- has opened and closed several times in the past few days.

Mount Agung's last eruption in the early sixties was one of the deadliest of the 20th century in a country with nearly 130 active volcanoes.

"I am very worried because I have experienced this before," 67-year-old evacuee Dewa Gede Subagia told AFP.

"I hope this time I won't have to evacuate for too long. In 1963 I left for four months."

Roadside signs that read "Volcanic danger zone. No entry!" underscored the potential risks of staying behind, although some evacuees had their doubts.

"The situation has forced us to be here," said I Nyoman Taman.

"I don't want to be here...because no matter how bad it is at home, it's still better than at the evacuation centre."

Experts said Agung's recent activity matches the build-up to the earlier disaster, which ejected enough debris -- about a billion tonnes -- to lower global average temperatures by 0.2 - 0.3 degrees Celsius for about a year.

"What we are seeing at the moment are small explosions, throwing out hot gases and fragments of molten rock, or ash," said David Pyle, a volcano expert at Oxford University.

"The probability of a large eruption is high, but this may take some days or weeks to unfold."

- 'Ring of Fire' -

Agung rumbled back to life in September, forcing the evacuation of 140,000 people living nearby. Its activity decreased in late October and many returned to their homes.

However, on Saturday the mountain sent smoke up into the air for the second time in a week in what volcanologists call a phreatic eruption -- caused by the heating and expansion of groundwater.

So-called cold lava flows have also appeared -- similar to mud flows and often a prelude to the blazing orange lava of popular imagination.

Indonesia, the world's most active volcanic region, lies on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" where tectonic plates collide, causing frequent volcanic and seismic activities.

Thousands flee as Bali raises volcano alert to highest level
Karangasem, Indonesia (AFP) Nov 27, 2017
A rumbling volcano on the resort island of Bali could erupt at any moment, authorities warned Monday as they raised alert levels to maximum, accelerated a mass evacuation and closed the main airport, leaving tourists stranded. Massive columns of thick grey smoke that have been belching from Mount Agung since last week hae now begun shooting more than three kilometres (two miles) into the sky ... read more

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