Bali volcano: Thousands told to return despite eruption fears

A boy is seen asleep on his mother's shoulder in a evacuee shelter inside a sports hall

Bali’s governor says too many people have evacuated their homes for fear of the Mount Agung volcano erupting, and tens of thousands should return.

I Made Mangku Pastik said those outside the immediate danger zone should go back as evacuees risked becoming a “burden” on emergency shelters.

More than 140,000 people have fled their homes after the island was put on high alert.

Hundreds of earthquakes have been detected at the base of Mount Agung.

A week after the initial warnings, authorities warned the volcano’s activity remains “high but stable”.

The 12km (7.5-mile) evacuation zone was implemented after experts warned the volcano could erupt for the first time since 1963.

About 500 makeshift shelters have been set up for about 70,000 people within this area, but tens of thousands of people living outside of the immediate danger zone have also fled.

  • What’s it like waiting for the eruption

“Only people from 27 villages must evacuate. The rest can go home,” said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the national disaster mitigation agency.

“They can either go home independently or with the help of the government,”

The Indonesian Centre for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation continue to monitor the site, as tremors at the base continue.

Clouds of sulphuric steam have been recorded up to 200m (650ft) above the mountain’s summit.

Bali is a popular tourist destination, and last year had about five million foreign visitors.

Mr Nugroho insisted that people should still travel to the island.

“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,” he said.

  • What’s happening at Mt Agung?
  • Indonesia country profile

The volcano is about 70km from the main tourist areas of Kuta and Seminyak, which remain directly unaffected.

But several countries including Britain, Australia and Singapore have issued travel advisories for their citizens, warning of possible flight disruptions and evacuations.

More than 1,000 people died when Mount Agung last erupted in 1963.

Bali is much more densely populated now than it was then, but it also has better infrastructure. Technical developments have made it possible to detect dangers earlier and implement better emergency plans.

Mount Agung is among about 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia – an archipelago prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.