(BALI, Indonesia) — Nearly 50,000 people have fled the Mount Agung volcano on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali, fearing an imminent eruption as dozens of tremors rattle the surrounding region, officials said Monday.
Waskita Sutadewa, spokesman for the disaster mitigation agency in Bali, said people have scattered to all corners of the island and some have crossed to the neighboring island of Lombok.
Indonesian authorities raised the volcano’s alert status to the highest level on Friday following a dramatic increase in seismic activity. It last erupted in 1963, killing about 1,100 people.
Thousands of evacuees are living in temporary shelters, sports centers, village halls and with relatives or friends. Some return to the danger zone, which extends up to 12 kilometers from the crater, during the day to tend to livestock.
Officials have said there’s no immediate threat to tourists but some are already cutting short their stays in Bali. A significant eruption would force the closure of Bali’s international airport, stranding thousands.
“It’s obviously an awful thing. We want to be out of here just to be safe,” said an Australian woman at Bali’s airport who identified herself as Miriam.
National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said hundreds of thousands of face masks will be distributed in Bali as part of government humanitarian assistance that includes thousands of mattresses and blankets.
“Mount Agung is entering a critical phase. Although it has been declared in the alert status on Sept. 22, it is not guaranteed that it will erupt imminently,” he said at a news conference in the capital, Jakarta.
In 1963, the 3,031-meter (9,944-foot) Agung hurled ash as high as 20 kilometers (12 miles), according to volcanologists, and remained active for about a year. Lava traveled 7.5 kilometers (4.7 miles) and ash reached Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) away.
The mountain, 72 kilometers (45 miles) to the northeast of the tourist hotspot of Kuta, is among more than 120 active volcanoes in Indonesia.
The country of thousands of islands is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.