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PHOTOS: Evacuated Bali residents wonder if the volcano will ever stop erupting

by Laurel Chor
Dec 16 2017, 9:30am

BALI, Indonesia — Farmer Wayan Kasih and her neighbors have had to move five times since the evacuations began in September, when Mt. Agung first showed signs of volcanic activity.

“We don’t have anything anymore, we had to sell all our cattle,” she said. Fearful of an imminent volcanic eruption, she knew she had to leave her farmland as soon as she could, so she was forced to sell her livestock — her family’s most valuable assets — at a fifth of the normal rate. And while the government has stepped in to provide sufficient amounts of rice and oil, the next meal is constantly a source of worry.

“For 18 families, we were given a single crate of eggs to last for three days,” she said.

Some 70,000 people are living in evacuation centers on the Indonesian island, where Mt. Agung has been erupting since Nov. 21. Many evacuees returned home when the volcano appeared to calm down in October, but they were forced to evacuate again when local authorities raised the alert level last month.

One of the few evacuation centers inside an actual building; many consist of little more than makeshift tents. Laurel Chor for Vice News

Unsure of when the volcano will stop erupting, farmers spend their days idly waiting in evacuation centers, while children jump from school to school, assigned to different locations as authorities struggle to accommodate them.

Still, many others simply ignore the evacuation orders, choosing to tend to their crops and livestock, only to return at night to sleep in the government-run evacuation centers.

Amid an important harvesting season, Ni Ketut Purnama says she can’t simply abandon her rice fields. “We are still in this red zone because we have plenty of things to do here,” she told VICE News. “It’s a pity to leave crops here just like that.”

A resting woman fans her daughter in a temporary evacuation center set up inside a sports stadium in Klungkung, Indonesia. Laurel Chor for Vice News

But the Indonesian government’s caution is well-founded. The volcano killed more than 1,000 people when it last erupted in 1963. When volcanic activity increased with remarkable speed in September, volcanologists feared a similarly violent eruption could occur. At some points in October, almost 1,200 earthquakes were recorded each day, when the island normally experiences just a handful every year.

“The authorities absolutely made the right decision to evacuate, even though the eruption didn’t start right away,” said Dr. Janine Krippner, a volcanologist. “We know from its last eruption that the volcano can be very deadly. The best scenario would be to get people out just before it happens, but it’s so unpredictable.”

Vice News visited local residents who’ve been forced to flee their homes due to Mt. Agung, biding their time in evacuation centers and waiting for the moment it’s finally safe to return home.

Wayan Putu Saba, a farmer from the village of Amertha Buana, tends to his ducks in his rice fields, which are in an evacuation zone on the foothills of Mt. Agung in Bali, Indonesia. Laurel Chor for Vice News
Komang Wati, along with her husband and two young daughters, moved to this evacuation center in Rendang a week ago. Her entire village, comprising about 70 residents, have jumped from center to center since the evacuations began. Laurel Chor for VICE News
Ketut Murtiana, a 14-year-old student, had to switch schools two months ago, after her family evacuated their home. Laurel Chor for Vice News
Mt. Agung looms in the background, as a woman walks past tents set up by the Indonesian Red Cross at an evacuation center in Rendang. Laurel Chor for Vice News
A woman plays with her son in her makeshift shelter inside an evacuation center in Rendang. Laurel Chor for Vice News