KLUNGKUNG, Indonesia — Authorities were trying to convince more than half of the 144,000 people who fled a menacing volcano on the Indonesian island of Bali to return home Saturday, saying they left areas that are safe.
The Mount Agung volcano on Bali, a tourist hotspot known for its lush interior, Hindu culture and beguiling beaches, has been at its highest alert level for more than a week, sparking an exodus from an official danger zone and areas farther away.
Authorities say the no-go zone, which in places extends 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the crater, is the area at risk of lava, lahars and searing hot clouds of ash, gases and rock fragments if there’s a powerful eruption.
“Those who live outside the danger zone, we urge them to go back home and carry on with their daily lives,” said Putu Widiada, head of the disaster mitigation agency in Klungkung district south of the volcano where some 22,000 people have fled. “We are trying to identify those who lived outside the danger zone.”
Bali’s governor has warned that people leaving what the government classifies as safe villages have become a “burden” on genuine evacuees and the temporary shelters set up to receive them.
Agung’s last eruptions in 1963 produced deadly clouds of searing hot ash, gases and rock fragments that traveled down its slopes at great speed. Lava spread for several kilometers (miles) and people were also killed by lahars — rivers of water and volcanic debris. About 1,100 people died in total.
Archive footage of the 1963 eruption shows buildings with roofs shredded by falling debris, a massive plume of ash gushing sideways from the crater and children in a row of hospital beds with their arms and legs bandaged.
Government volcanologists last week warned Agung could erupt at any time following a dramatic increase in tremors from the mountain.
Despite the government warning of temporary camps being overburdened, three visited by Associated Press reporters on Saturday were calm and orderly.
“I will stay here for as long as it takes,” said Suryani, a mother of two living with extended family in a tent on the grounds of a public sports center that’s the main camp in Klungkung district.
Inside the center, families whiled away the time on mattresses, watching a giant TV screen, while cheerful music blared in the background.
“They are treating us well. I don’t want to go home if the mountain hasn’t exploded yet,” said Suryani, who goes by one name and is from a village inside the danger zone.
She said she sympathized with people who’d fled from areas designated as safe by officials.
“If it’s not safe yet, they should allow them to stay,” she said. “We can stay here together so they’re not in danger.”
At another smaller temporary camp, officials said a dozen people had left of their own accord after the Bali governor’s statement and they were in the process of identifying others who can go home but wouldn’t compel them to.
Widiada, the disaster official, said longer-term plans for evacuees from the so-called red zone are still being worked out.
“This is a temporary shelter so it’s not as comfortable as your own house but we are trying to make it as good as we can by providing entertainment, counselors, a school for the children.”
Agung, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) to the northeast of the Kuta tourist mecca, is among more than 120 active volcanoes in Indonesia. Another volcano, Mount Sinabung on Sumatra, has been erupting since 2010.
Officials say tourists on Bali, which had nearly 5 million visitors last year, are not in danger but they have prepared evacuation plans if ash fall from an eruption forces the closure of the island’s international airport.
Indonesia, an archipelago 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.