Well-known Fermanagh-based journalist Julian Fowler and his family are stranded in Bali because of an erupting volcano.

Officials in the Indonesian island raised the volcano alert to the highest level on Monday, fearing an imminent major eruption of Mount Agung, which had been rumbling and emitting massive plumes of dark ash since last week. 

Authorities told 100,000 people to evacuate an area extending up to six miles from the volcano and thousands of tourists have been stranded.
Mr. Fowler is currently on a 12-month career break from his post as BBC Reporter in Fermanagh and Tyrone and is travelling with his wife Joanne and their daughters, Annie (nine) and Eva (seven). 

Volcano closes Bali airport for second day as thousands left stranded

They arrived in Bali four weeks ago and were due to fly to Australia on Monday, but their flight was cancelled. They are now scheduled to fly to Adelaide on Friday night.

On Wednesday Bali airport was reopened because the giant ash cloud had drifted south, leaving clean space above the airport for planes to land and take off. 

The danger, however, has not passed. Indonesian President Joko Widodo urged anyone still within the exclusion zone near the mountain to get out “for the sake of their safety”. Experts said a larger, explosive eruption is possible or Mount Agung could stay at its current level of activity for weeks. Its last major eruption, in 1963, killed about 1,100 people.

“We were aware that Mount Agung has been active and that people had been evacuated in September. Despite the predictions at that time that an eruption was imminent the alerts were downgraded in October, people returned to their homes and tourists were told that Bali was safe to visit,” said Mr. Fowler.

“As we flew in to Denpasar from Perth in Western Australia we could see a small plume of steam coming from the top of the mountain but we were not overly concerned. It was an opportunity for us to learn about volcanoes!”

They spent a week on Bali before travelling to the Gili Islands, where they felt a tremor from a 4.9 earthquake centred on Bali. They returned to Bali on November 21 and the plume of smoke “was noticeably bigger.”
The Fowlers are staying in Ubud, about 25 miles from Mount Agung.
“Over the last few days we have seen the ash cloud expand and extend thousands of feet into the air. It is the rainy season and most of the time the mountain is obscured by clouds. The ash has become mixed with rainwater coating surfaces with a fine grey film. Some people have started to wear dust masks as a precaution,” Mr. Fowler said.

The journalist has discovered that the volcano plays a central role in the spiritual and religious life of the Balinese. “It is where the mother temple is located and extra prayers are being said as they believe it is a sign that the gods are upset,” he said.

The Fowlers hope they will make it to Australia in time to spend Christmas with relatives.
Mr. Fowler added: “We feel safe where we are now. The latest update from the budget airline we are flying with is that they will be resuming flights on Thursday and starting additional relief flights for the thousands of stranded passengers. We are hoping that the weather conditions will improve long enough for us to resume our onward journey to Australia on Saturday.”