More than 144,000 people have fled from a rumbling volcano on popular tourist island Bali, but officials Saturday urged evacuees who live outside the immediate danger zone to return home.
Mount Agung, 75 kilometres (47 miles) from the tourist hub of Kuta, has been shaking since August, causing fears it could erupt for the first time since 1963 and triggering the highest possible alert level eight days ago.
But officials say the number of evacuees has grown too high, and only people who live within nine kilometres of the crater should remain in temporary shelters or with friends and relatives further afield.
“There is no reason for people who live in the safe zone to evacuate. They need to go back to their village because they will become a burden,” Bali’s governor I Made Mangku Pastika said.
Only 70,000 people live within the nine-kilometre radius affected by Mount Agung’s volcanic activity, meaning more than half of the evacuees can return to their houses, the government said.
“Only people from 27 villages must evacuate. The rest can go home. They can either go home independently or with the help of the government,” said national disaster mitigation agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.
The activity of Mount Agung remains high but stable, said the Indonesian Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation. There were fewer than 200 tremors between midnight and 6am on Saturday — slightly below the level of seismic activity observed Wednesday and Thursday, it said.
Indonesia sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where tectonic plates collide, causing frequent seismic and volcanic activity.
In 2010, Mount Merapi on the island of Jaya erupted after rumbling since 2006, while Mount Sinabung on Sumatra island — which is currently also on the highest alert level — has been active since 2013.
“There are no visual signs yet that Mount Agung will erupt soon. So don’t be afraid to come to Bali, it’s still safe. And if the mountain erupts, it’s still safe as long as people stay out of the dangerous zone,” Nugroho said.