Mount Agung volcano alert in Bali downgraded

Residents and tourists on tenterhooks in Bali can exhale after the alert status of Mount Agung volcano was downgraded on Sunday afternoon following a decrease in seismic activity over the past week.

Mount Agung - the largest and most sacred mountain in Bali - had been on the highest alert level since September 22 with tens of thousands of people evacuated as authorities warned of a possible eruption.

The threat has battered the economy of the resort island, which chalked up losses of up to $191.4 million - $24 million from the tourism sector alone - over the 38 days the volcano was on the highest possible alert.

But the head of the Centre for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation, Kasbani, stressed the decision to downgrade the warning was based purely on the lessening activity of the volcano and not other pressures.

The exclusion zone has been reduced to an area of between six and 7.5 kilometres from the summit. Only six villages remain within this danger zone.

As of October 29 there were 133,349 evacuees living in 390 refugee camps in nine regencies throughout Bali.

Refugees who live outside this new exclusion zone will be assisted to return home should they wish to do so.

Besakih temple - the largest and holiest Hindu temple in Bali and a popular tourist attraction - is also now considered safe.

An official statement released by the volcanology centre warned that although the status of Mount Agung has been downgraded from four to three, the volcano had not completely calmed down and still had the potential to erupt.

Volcanologist Devy Kamil Syahbana said the decision to downgrade the alert status was made following decreasing seismic activity over the period of a week.

"It's a constant pattern. After one week we think this decrease may be a good sign the volcano has weakened its pressure," he said.

Satellite imagery indicated thermal activity was also decreasing and photographs taken by drones of the crater on Sunday morning indicated less steam.

The volcanology centre will continue to monitor the volcano and advise of any increase in activity.

As the rumbling Mount Agung took its toll on Bali's economy, the National Disaster Management Agency last week suggested a less conventional form of tourism: volcano tourism.

Spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho posted a spectacular photo of a pre-wedding shoot in front of another Indonesian volcano - Mount Sinabung in Sumatra - on his official Twitter account.

"We need to explore the potential of volcano tourism," he told reporters. "Malaysia has no volcanos, Australia has no volcanos, we have plenty of volcanos. As long as we stay in the safe zone it will be safe. The tourism ministry should actually explore it."

Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a fault line in the Pacific Ocean, where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur.

Mount Agung is one of 127 active volcanoes in Indonesia, which accounts for 13 per cent of the total number worldwide.

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This story Mount Agung volcano alert in Bali downgraded first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.