BALI, INDONESIA - An Indonesian disaster official says more than 120,000 people have left the region around the Mount Agung volcano on Bali, fearing it will soon erupt.
Nyoman Parwata, an official at the disaster mitigation agency’s command post in Bali, said Thursday the number of evacuees has swelled to about 122,500.
Villagers began leaving in the middle of last week, and the number of evacuees has swelled daily since Friday, when the volcano’s alert status was raised to the highest level.
An exclusion zone around the mountain extends as far as 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the crater in places, but officials say people farther from the volcano are also leaving.
The agency said a monitoring center had recorded more than 800 earthquakes so far Wednesday and thin smoke was observed rising 50 meters (160 feet) above the crater.
The volcano last erupted in 1963, killing more than 1,100 people, and remained active for about a year.
Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said the chances of an eruption are “quite big,” although experts can’t predict when with certainty.
The people who have fled the volcano are scattered across Bali in more than 400 locations including temporary camps, sports centers and other public buildings.
In Karangasem district, volunteers were helping with classes for some of the thousands of children whose schools within the exclusion zone around the volcano are now closed.
“So far the children look happy and are enjoying themselves,” said volunteer Yenni Ariyanti. “They do not look worried or sad. Hopefully we can continue to maintain their excitement and keep them in good spirits.”
The Ministry of Transport says it’s ready to deploy 100 buses to take stranded tourists off Bali if an eruption forces its international airport to close.
The mountain, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) to the northeast of the tourist hotspot of Kuta, is among more than 120 active volcanoes in Indonesia.
Another volcano, Mount Sinabung, has been erupting sporadically since 2010, sometimes blasting volcanic ash several kilometers (miles) into the air and forcing more than 30,000 to evacuate their villages.
Indonesia, an archipelago of thousands of islands, is prone to seismic upheaval due to its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.