SA writer trapped in 'paradise', fears the worst for locals in Bali volcano danger zone

2017-11-28 07:33 - Selene Brophy
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Photo: Samatha Kaye

Cape Town - After months of threatening to erupt, Bali’s Mount Agung has placed the popular tourist destination on its highest volcano alert.

Ngurah Rai International Airport has been closed since late on Sunday, 26 November following the soft weekend eruption - with more than 400 flights cancelled to date. The local airport authority said on Tuesday that closure for another 24 hours was required for safety reasons. Volcanic ash poses a deadly threat to aircraft, and ash from Agung is moving south-southwest toward the airport. Ash has reached a height of about 30 000 feet as it drifts across the island.

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SEE: UPDATE: Bali on maximum volcano alert as SA travellers advised to check on flight status

Amongst the hundreds of thousands of travellers stranded on the Indonesian island is Capetonian, Samantha Kaye, who arrived in Bali on Friday the 24th November with her boyfriend. Kaye says, "We were intending to spend 4 nights warming up for our December surf trip to Siargo’s infamous wave “Cloud Nine” in the Philippines”.

The couple are staying at Komune, a surf resort on one of Bali’s best right hand breaks on Keramas beach, according to Kaye.  

“We are out of the danger evacuation zone with Komune being situated 44.2km away from Mount Agung, but close enough to see the volcano and her emissions diffused through the ash cloud surrounding her,” says Kaye.

Indonesia's National Disaster Mitigation Agency raised the volcano's alert to the highest level Monday and expanded an exclusion zone to 10 kilometres (6 miles) from the crater in places from the previous 7 1/2 kilometers. It said a larger eruption is possible, though a top government volcanologist has also said the volcano could continue for weeks at its current level of activity and not erupt explosively.

Agung's last major eruption in 1963 killed about 1 100 people. 

‘Spirits of both locals and tourists high’

“Thus far our experience has been pleasant and relatively stress free. The spirits of both the locals and tourists are high. The technology available today has afforded locals fair warning for the imminent eruptions, and with every precaution being taken,” says Kaye.

A major concern is the wind and weather conditions, affecting the movement of the ash cloud. “It is hard for anyone to predict the extent of the eruptions over the next few hours or days,” she says.  

‘No travel insurance, possibly stranded for three weeks’

As the couple have no travel insurance, they could be facing an expensive situation should a larger eruption happen.

"I was booked to fly with Air Asia from Bali to Singapore, and Air Asia have offered to put me on an alternative flight or refund me into my account. Communication is difficult because most airline offices are situated at the airport, which has been closed for two days.

“I could be stranded here for three weeks or more which will rack up an expensive accommodation and food bill. My current concern is for the safety of my finances and future earnings." 

SEE: #TravelEssentials: 4 Ways travel insurance can really save you from disaster

‘Concern for effects on tourism’

Kaye says the locals she has spoken to are concerned about the effect that the eruptions will have on tourism, but the tourists themselves seem mostly excited at the potential of being stuck at a resort, safely put of harm's way for now. 

And while for some it could be a couple of expensive weeks “stranded in paradise”, Kaye says her biggest concern is for the locals who have chosen not to evacuate. 

“It is scary to think of the effect this could have on my festive season and personal finances, but when I think of the thousands of Bali locals living within the danger zone who stand to lose their homes and farms to the catastrophic damage the magma will cause, my concerns are put into perspective.”

Kaye says local police plan to start “forcing evacuations within the immediate danger zone. 

“Many of these Bali locals are amongst the lowest income bracket on Bali island and I hope the world can come to their aid.” 

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