Thu, 11 Aug 1994

People on alert as Mt. Batur `coughs'

JAKARTA (JP): Mount Batur on Bali is spewing ash and smoke, prompting the authorities to appeal to residents and tourists to stay away from the 1,771 meter high volcano.

Mt. Batur, 60 kilometers northeast of capital Denpasar, had been dormant for 20 years until Sunday when it began to shoot hot ashes and thick smoke into the sky.

The local government has declared Mt. Batur closed for mountaineers and tourists until the volcanic activity stops.

Officials said that up to Tuesday, the mountain had erupted more than 600 times, with a time interval of one to five minutes.

Up to last night no casualties had been reported.

Bali Governor Ida Bagus Oka appealed to residents of the scenic mountain resort of Kintamani to stay alert for possible major eruptions.

A similar warning was issued by officials of the local office of the Directorate of Volcanology, who have been closely watching every development at the mountain.

Experts monitoring the volcano say that Mt. Batur began its current activity on Aug. 4.

Antara reported that the minor eruptions were clearly visible from Kintamani and Penelokan, two of Bali's most popular holiday resorts.

The gushing fire, ash and smoke have become a rare attraction for tourists who can enjoy the scene from cool Kintamani, about three kilometers from the mountain.

Up to now, the volcanic activities have not affected the local residents' daily routines even though thin layers of gray volcanic ash are a common sight.

The regent of Bangli, where the volcano is situated, said the explosions had not posed any health or physical danger to the people at the moment.

"There is nothing to worry about at the moment. There is no reason to evacuate residents in the affected area," Wijana, a spokesman for the Bangli administration, said.

More experts

The flames, most attractive at night, spout from the western crater that the locals call Batur Crater III, about 1,500 meters above sea level.

Ashes and smoke have shot up to 300 meters into the sky.

The government plans to bring in more experts in volcanology from Bandung, West Java, to reinforce the monitoring team deployed in the Suter village, four kilometers from the crater.

Major eruptions of Mt. Batur,a heaven for local and foreign mountaineers, happened in 1804, 1917, 1926, 1963 and 1974.

The largest explosion occurred in 1917, followed by one of a similar magnitude in 1963. No data on casualties and damage for those eruptions were available.

"The mount will spew hot lava, sand, ash and gravel only if a major explosion happens," said Tulus, one of the experts watching the mountain. (pan)