The exodus of thousands of tourists from Bali continued yesterday as a change in wind direction helped keep the skies over its airport clear of ash clouds from the erupting Mount Agung volcano.
Fewer tremors and clearer columns of white smoke from the crater also gave hope to people on the resort island that the worst of the eruptions could be over.
But as a precaution, the Bali government has extended its state of emergency to Dec 10 as the island braces itself for what could still be a larger eruption – similar to the 1963 blowout that killed more than 1,500 people – in the days ahead.
In a state of emergency, local governments can disburse funds to pay for aid that evacuees need or mobilise national resources.
While improved wind conditions allowed flights to and from Bali to resume for a second day, operations at the airport on neighbouring Lombok island were suspended at least until today, said state-run air navigation agency AirNav Indonesia.
Commenting on the steam emitting from Mount Agung yesterday, volcanologist Janine Kripp tweeted: “No, this does not mean it is over… Fluctuations in activity are a normal part of the life of volcanoes.”
Agreeing, Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Nugroho said there is no change in the exclusion zone of an 8km-to-10km radius from the volcano summit.
Bali has been on high alert since Sept 22, after increased seismic activity pushed magma towards the surface of the volcano. Mount Agung is about 70km east of Bali’s capital Denpasar and tourism hot spots like Kuta beach.
At least 60,000 foreign tourists and 100,000 local tourists are in Bali, The Jakarta Post reported yesterday.
Dozens of flights to Australia, China and Singapore took off yesterday. These included planes carrying about 2,700 Chinese tourists, as well as chartered flights arranged by Seoul for hundreds of stranded South Koreans.
China surpassed Australia for the first time this year as the top source of visitor arrivals in Bali, with more than a million Chinese nationals visiting the island in the first eight months of this year.
This means one in four tourists in Bali is from China, as overall visitor numbers for the island rose by 25 per cent to over four million as of Aug 31.
But Tourism Minister Arief Yahya estimates that since the volcano warning level was first raised in September, the loss in tourism revenue could have amounted to more than US$650 million (S$876 million), reported Reuters.
More than 43,000 residents living near the volcano in Karangasem regency in east Bali, where Mount Agung lies, have been evacuated as of yesterday, three days after the alert status was raised.
But thousands of villagers continue to risk their lives by sneaking back into the danger zone – along with thrill-seeking tourists, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP) yesterday.
One of them was chicken farmer Wayan Kompyang, a father of nine. “I keep coming back to the village to check on my chickens and feed them,” he told AFP in Pring Sari, a village about 8km from the volcano.
Others are foreign “eruption chasers” like Ms Anna Mangler. “We just want to see it,” the French tourist told AFP. “We are here for a vacation… so why not? Of course, it is scary, but it’s going to be okay.”
Dr Sutopo, however, has urged them to stop it. “Yesterday, rocks were falling up to 4km away from the crater, so it’s really dangerous,” he said. “Don’t challenge nature.”