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Thousands flee over Bali volcano eruption fears

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    Agence France-Presse

Karangasem, Bali   /   Wed, November 22, 2017   /   02:00 pm
 Thousands flee over Bali volcano eruption fears General view of Mount Agung volcano from the Kubu sub-district in Karangasem Regency on Indonesia's resort island of Bali on November 22, 2017. The rumbling volcano on Indonesia's holiday island of Bali spewed ash and towering clouds of smoke, heightening fears it may erupt for the first time in more than 50 years. (AFP/Sonny Tumbeleka)

Thousands living in the shadow of a rumbling volcano in Bali fled Wednesday as fears grow that it could erupt for the first time in more than 50 years.

Mount Agung belched smoke as high as 700 metres (2,300 feet) above its summit late Tuesday afternoon, sparking an exodus from the settlements near the mountain.

Nearly 1,600 people died when Mt. Agung last erupted in 1963.

It stirred to life again in September, prompting about 140,000 people to leave the area. Many returned home after the volcano's activity waned, but thousands are now fleeing again.

Some 30,000 people remain displaced, officials said.

"There are 13 of us and we're afraid. Our neighbours have also fled," said Nyoman Sadi, a local resident who said she was leaving with her family.

Disaster officials have warned that fresh activity at Mt. Agung could see it blow its top.

But the head of Indonesia's volcanology center urged people to remain calm and said the mountain's alert level has not yet been raised.

"Yesterday there was smoke and steam as high as 700 meters, and last night there were tremors for quite a while -- around three hours," Kasbani told AFP on Wednesday.

"The mountain continues to spew smoke, but there hasn't been any big eruption so far."

Mt. Agung lies some 75 kilometres (45 miles) from Bali's tourist areas, which attract millions of tourists every year.

Flights have not been affected so far, but officials have estimated that concerns about an eruption over the past few months have cost the island at least $110 million in lost tourism and productivity as many locals moved to shelters.