The alert for Bali’s Mount Agung has been raised to its the highest level, prompting the closure of the tourist island’s main airport amid fears of an imminent major eruption.
At least 445 flights were disrupted after the Indonesian volcano belched columns of ash into the sky, leaving 59,000 passengers tourists stranded.
The National Disaster Mitigation Agency said Bali’s international airport had closed for 24 hours and authorities would consider reopening it on Tuesday after evaluating the situation.
The small international airport on the neighbouring island of Lombok had already been closed on Sunday after the plumes of ash had drifted east.
“Continuous ash puffs are sometimes accompanied by explosive eruptions accompanied by a weak sound of boom which sounds up to 12 km from the summit,” the National Board for Disaster Management wrote on Facebook.
“The rays of fire are increasingly observed in at night. This indicates the potential for a larger eruption is imminent.”
It said the status of the volcano had consequently been raised from Alert Level 3 to Awas (level 4) and urged people within 10km of the volcano to evacuate. Previously the exclusion zone around the volcano ranged between 6 and 7.5 kilometers.
Geological agency head, Kasbani, who goes by one name, said the alert level was raised at 6 am on Monday because the volcano has shifted from steam-based eruptions to magmatic eruptions. However he said he was still not expecting a major eruption.
“We don’t expect a big eruption but we have to stay alert and anticipate,” he says.
Indonesian and regional authorities had already heightened flight warnings around Mount Agung on Sunday as the volcano’s eruptions sent a plume of volcanic ash and steam more than 6,000 metres into the skies above the popular holiday island.
Ash covered roads, cars and buildings near the volcano in the northeast of the island, while scores of flights were cancelled and overnight a red glow of what appeared to be magma could be seen in photographs by Antara, the state news agency.
Video released by the national disaster agency showed a mudflow of volcanic debris and water known as a lahar moving down the volcano’s slopes.
“Watch out for lahar floods (cold lava) around Mt Agung,” agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said network Twitter.
“Lahar floods have already occurred in several places on the slopes,” he added, referring to expectations of increased rain in the current wet season. He urged people to avoid nearby river areas.
“I’m very concerned because I left my house behind and I’m also worried about family,” said 36-year-old farmer Putu Suyasa, who fled with some of his relatives from a village eight kilometres away from the volcano.
National disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho called for people to stay calm.
“As we have widened the exclusion zone, so the number of people evacuating will increase but we don’t have the latest data yet,” he told AFP.
“Most important is always to follow our instructions and keep calm,” he added.