Bali Farmers Are Ignoring Warnings That Mount Agung Is About to Blow
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Bali Farmers Are Ignoring Warnings That Mount Agung Is About to Blow

Local farmers are stuck with a dangerous choice: stay in safety and risk your livelihood or return home and chance your life.
October 2, 2017, 1:53pm

Mount Agung is about to explode. Indonesian disaster officials set the highest warning level last Friday as white plumes of smoke started to rise from the volcano. Officials set a mandatory evacuation for all villages within 20 kilometres of the volcano's crater, moving nearly 140,000 people to makeshift camps in the safe zone.

But some villagers have already started to return home to tend to their livestock. The local government has started to evacuate animals from the danger zone as well, but it's not enough for people who depend on their cows to earn a living. There are an estimated 30,000 cows left inside the danger zone, enough to convince many local farmers to ignore the warning signs and make the potentially life-threatening trip back to their villages.

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The last time Mount Agung erupted it left at least 200 people dead and more than 1,700 houses destroyed. The eruption was so massive that it lowered the Earth's average temperature by 0.7 degrees Celsius. That was in 1963 and a lot of Bali's older residents remember the eruption as a fearful, difficult time.

We sent our photographer Danar Tri Atmojo out to figure out why local residents are ignoring the warnings and putting their lives on the line to return home.

NI MADE RUPI, EVACUATED TO SHELTER

VICE: Why did you choose to evacuate?
Ni Made Rupi: I like in Budakeling, it's on the south side of Mount Agung. My house is close to the volcano, about 12 kilometers from it.

Did your whole family leave?
No. I'm here with my husband, children, and in-laws. So it's only two families. Some of them have already gone back home.

Wait, they went back home? Why?
They had to tend to the cows and pigs. They go home every day. They leave at 11 in the morning and return to the shelter at 5 pm. Our village is only 15 kilometers from here.

Are you going to go back too?
I'm still scared. I can't go home.

Were you here the last time Mount Agung erupted?
Yes. I was in second grade. I still remember it.

What was it like?
We didn't have a car. We didn't even have a bicycle then. The volcano had already erupted, it was spewing lava, so my family had to walk for the whole night. We started walking at midnight and we arrived at the evacuation camp one hour later. Fortunately it was pretty close by. I remember running along this river that was seven meters wide .It was filled with cold lava. We just kept walking. It was raining rocks that night.

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That sounds traumatic. Is that why you evacuated this time?
It was hard for me because I am most comfortable in my home. I would like to go home as soon as possible. It's very stressful here in this camp.

I GUSTI GEDE SUASA, EVACUATED TO SHELTER

VICE: How long have you been staying here at this camp?
I Gusti Gede Suasa: Since the alert was first announced. My village is within the red zone. There's still remnants of the 1963 eruption there. I evacuated then too. I'm here with 16 other members of my family.

Do you plan to return home anytime soon?
No. I'm going to stay here until the government says it's safe to go back home. But I heard that three people walked up to the crater. Maybe they wanted to pray.

What was it like the last time the volcano erupted?
It was more miserable to be a refugee back then. I was in 7th grade and I remember walking to Gianyar with my cow. The big eruption took place in March. It was horrible. Big rocks fell all over the place. I stayed at the camp for six months with only cassava to eat. Now it's different. But if I think about the past, it gives me chills.

Back then I couldn't even go home to get clean clothes because they said it was still dangerous. Every time the rain fell, the lava got worse.

Did it destroy your home?
No. Our house was 10 kilometers from the crater. But I was terrified of the hot clouds, the sulfur, and the toxic gas. Even bronze would melt if it touched the cloud. I remember seeing people in my village who died and their skin had peeled off. Now it's not as bad yet and the government already told us to evacuate. In my village there were 546 victims from the 1963 eruption. There wasn't any warning at all from the government back then.

MADE SAPARTA, REMAINED BEHIND

VICE: Why did you refuse to evacuate to the safe zone?
Made Suparta: Because I believe Mount Agung is still safe, and I'll always pray at the temple.

But the rest of the village already evacuated earlier this week.
Yes, but some of them are already back home because they have livestock to attend to. In fact, a day after being evacuated, they're already back here because they had heard the 'Balian Ketakson' (a Balinese Hindu term that means God's calling to return home). So they only spent one night at the evacuation shelter.

KETUT SUNARYA, REMAINED BEHIND

VICE: I saw you out there tending to your cows. Aren't you afraid of the volcano?
Ketut Sunarya: I'm a bit scared, but mostly it's fine. The thing is, I have like 30 cows at home. Of course I hope the volcano wouldn't erupt. But I just get bored at the makeshift camp. And I had left my cows at home.

The media coverage is full of exaggerations. There are still so many people here who don't want to evacuate. And my 30 cows at home, who's going to feed them? What does the government know about any of this? They created such a big fuss.

The government doesn't really care about cows. I raise cows and then sell them. The cattle need to be sold so I can buy rice. If it's a good cow, I'll keep it and raise it. Look, I buy and sell cows, that's what I do. When it's Idul Adha, I'm overwhelmed with demand. But now I have to sell these cows at a low price. I sold one the other day for only Rp 3 million ($221 USD).

What are you going to do if the volcano erupts?
I heard that the eruption wouldn't go farther than 12 kilometers from the crater. My place is 40 kilometers away, so it's fine. Even if it does erupt, I hope the impact won't be that big. The eruption in 1963 destroyed everything. You know, people can't really predict Mount Agung.

You were here the last time it erupted?
No. I wasn't born yet. But my father was there. Everything was ruined. People had to eat with coconut shells because they lost all their plates. Everything was gone .The earthquake made the coconuts fall from the trees. What's happening now is nothing compared to that, and yet people are already evacuating their villages. That's why I said the media was exaggerating. They're making it hard for us. No one has evacuated my village. Everyone is staying in their homes.