AsiaMonday, December 11
- Lukman Sudarbo
A rumbling volcano on Indonesia's tourist island of Bali continued belching plumes of ash over the weekend. Mount Agung erupted 3 weeks ago for the first time in half a century. Authorities are keeping the alert at the highest level. Locals worry about how this will impact tourism -- the island's most important economic sector.
September. It was downgraded in October for a while, but it's at the highest level again. Some 70,000 people are still living in evacuation centers after the authorities imposed an exclusion zone up to 10 kilometers from the crater.
Many women in the centers are making bamboo baskets. They're having a hard time making a living. "There's so much ash around my house. I want to go back home, but I don't have the courage," says one of them.
Disaster management officials say the 3,000-meter-high volcano is quieter than it was in November -- but they're still on alert for a major eruption. Life doesn't look like it's going to get back to normal anytime soon.
The crater is about 60 kilometers from the popular travel spots. But the number of tourists visiting Bali is down. At popular beaches, horse-drawn carriages are sitting empty. They're usually carrying tourists around. "This situation is affecting our livelihood now. I think the number of tourists has fallen by half," says a local.
In November, the international airport in Bali was closed for 3 days when Mount Agung was spewing ash. Thousands of travelers were stranded.
Tourists have been canceling their trips to Bali for Christmas and New Year. The Indonesian government estimates that the island's tourism industry will lose more than US$660 million by the end of the year if Mount Agung stays active.
Bali is one of Asia's leading tourist destinations. Five million tourists visited the island last year. Concern is mounting over how badly the smoking volcano will hurt the island's key industry.