It hasn’t happened yet. But it doesn’t mean it won’t.
Now, villagers who’ve been crammed into evacuation camps this whole time have had enough and are heading home, back into the danger zone around Mt Agung.
Frontline aid workers have told Hack up to 4,000 of the 185,000 evacuees are defying authorities to tend crops and take care of temples in preparation for next week’s religious festival.
Mt Agung’s threat was raised to its highest level on September 22, triggering an overnight stampede of car, trucks and bikes down the mountain. By the end of the week, 185,000 residents had been evacuated from a 12 kilometre radius around the volcano.
More than 33 days later, the threat warning for Mt Agung remains at its highest level, Level Four, meaning an eruption could be imminent.
The last time Mt Agung erupted back in 1963, 1100 people were killed.
Pak Ade Andreawan, the executive director of the IDEP Foundation, an agency distributing buckets, soap, rice and other supplies to the evacuation camps, said many evacuees in camps were growing increasingly stressed.
“They have their garden, their crops, their temple,” he said.
“Some of them are stubborn. They say, I don’t want to go out from my house, this is the only one that I have, I will try to guard my house.”
He said the Mount Agung Relief Coordination Group had set up big banners in the evacuation zones in order to warn people of the risks of coming back to their homes.
“Also the army and the police try to give security to ensure they’re not coming into the evacuation area,” he said.
“But you know, sometimes the people think they need to go back home.”
‘We want volcano to erupt as soon as possible’
Dr Rebecca Carey, a vulcanologist with the University of Tasmania, said developing countries often struggled to keep people out of evacuated volcanic areas, which tended to be good for farming due to the fertile volcanic ash soils.
Back in late September, when the evacuation began, she told Hack the mountain could stay at a heightened level of unrest for months.
“These people are in emergency shelters that probably aren’t equipped and don’t have resources to keep people comfortable for weeks to months,” she said.
“There starts to be a level of distrust between the public and officials when the volcano doesn’t erupt.
“What tends to start happening is people go back to their farms because they need to for their livelihood.
In early October, the spokesman for the Disaster Mitigation Agency in Bali said about 10,000 of the 150,000 evacuees from the mountain were sick, some with “hypertension”.
“Of course, there is fatigue and stress. This prolonged stress causes people to have hypertension, they’ve got body aches, they’ve got cold; because living in camps, the condition is cold and uncomfortable, they sleep on the ground.”
That was more than three weeks ago.
A second evacuation would be ‘a big mess’
The Indonesian Government says Bali remains safe to visit outside of the immediate Mount Agung area and in the last week has begun organising “familiarisation trips” – inviting nine journalists from China to visit the island.
“We want to convince tourists that Bali is a safe place to visit,” an official said on Tuesday.
Despite these assurances, those working in the evacuation camps are concerned about lack of preparation if the volcano does erupt.
Rio Helmi, a resident of Bali for over 40 years who has been volunteering in the camps, told Hack that on the night of the 22nd, when people were told leave their homes, there were traffic jams for hours as “everyone went screaming down the mountain”.
“There was a huge hullabaloo,” he said.
“The were told the mountain is going to blow up.”
“When it didn’t blow and they were stuck in awful camps, they lost their confidence in the authorities.”
“After a few days the whole thing got really tense.”
“In really big camps there’s a danger of depression.”
He said that, since the initial evacuation, mountain quarries have reopened and trucks hauling sand and rock have begun descending the narrow, winding mountain roads, potentially clogging up the roads if there was an eruption and a second evacuation.
Pak Ade Andreawan said if there was an eruption tomorrow the evacuation would be “a big mess”.
Volcano ‘fat’ with magma
The Indonesian Centre for Volcanology and Geologic Hazard Mitigation (CVGHM), the official body that sets the threat level, is due to post an updated threat level on Thursday. It could remain the same or it could be lowered.
One of the most important religious festivals for Balinese Hindus, Galungan, symbolising the victory of good over evil, is due to start next week, on November 1.
Pak Ade Andreawan said many people in the evacuation camps felt they needed to return to their village for the 10-day festival.
Seismic activity has gone down in recent weeks, but vulcanologists report an estimated 18.5 million cubic metres of extra magma remains in the belly of the mountain.
In the last month, the mountain has risen – ‘vertical uplift’ – by 6cm.
When the volcano erupted in 1963, currents of hot gas and volcanic matter- ‘pyrocastic flows’ – hurtled down the mountain at about half the speed of sound.
The eruption fired a column of ash 10km into the air – about the cruising altitude of a jet airliner.
Author James Purtill