Thousands of evacuated Balinese slowly make their way back home after alert level of Mount Agung downgraded

A villager carries buckets to take water behind seen mount Agung at Kubu subdistrict in Karangasem on Bali island on October 6, 2017. Photo: Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP

Thousands of Balinese villagers are gradually making their way home after the status of Bali’s Mount Agung volcano was downgraded from the highest alert level for an eruption on Sunday.

With the status dropping from a level-four “danger” status to a three, or “standby,” Indonesia’s volcanology center said villagers living more than six kilometers from the crater can now return home.

Mount Agung is located in Bali’s Karangasem regency, about 75 kilometers from the tourist hub of Kuta. It had been on level four since Sept. 22, when an exclusion zone of nine to 12 kilometers from the volcano’s crater was set, resulting in the displacement of an estimated 185,865 evacuees. Of that number, 133,457 were believed to have been staying at government-run evacuation centers, the rest with family or friends in other parts of Bali or Indonesia.

Six villages on the slopes of Agung remain in the danger zone, including Buwana Giri, Sebudi, Besakih, Jungutan, Dukuh, and Ban. Around 3,758 people evacuated from these villages remain at government-run evacuation centers.

While government vehicles have been put in place to help bring back people whose homes are no longer in the danger zone, not everyone’s ready to go back. 

The Klungkung Regional Disaster Management Agency (BPBD) said it has eight vehicles, five buses and three trucks, to send evacuees back home.

“BPBD is working together with the Indonesian military, national police, search and rescue, SKPD (government working units), NGOs, and the community to provide vehicles to transport the refugees home,” the agency’s chief, Putu Widiada, said on Monday, as quoted by Antara Bali.

But some evacuees aren’t ready to return home yet, because they still fear an eruption could be coming — the volcanology center has warned it’s still possible — and the big holiday of Galungan is coming up. Holidays usually require money, something which evacuees, who have been out of work for the past five weeks, are falling short of.

“I am really confused because I do not have money to prepare for the holidays. For Galungan, you should buy materials, ranging from ceremonial and ritual items to food,” says Nyoman Wenten, a local resident.

“I will come home later, after Galungan. I am still afraid to go home because the status is still standby, another resident, Nyoman Parwata, 45, said.

Fortunately for both “Nyoman’s”, the BPBD is not yet shutting down its centers and forcing people out.

“We are not forcing evacuees to go home,” Widiada confirmed.

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