We got the notice about 9pm. Luckily, we were prepared.
A few days before the status of Gunung Agung in East Bali went from Level I (normal) to II (alert). Then quickly elevated again and went to Level III (standby).
We weren’t too worried. We had bags packed. Important stuff. Emergency route was planned and we would evacuate to go stay with friends.
When neighbors started leaving we were calm and planning to stay until it went to Level IV (caution).
There was plenty of misinformation on social media.
People claiming it was raining fire and stones. It wasn’t.
Videos of other volcanoes erupting with captions that it was Agung. It wasn’t.
People panicking and envisioning fire and brimstone and imagining themselves running just ahead of a pyroclastic flow of red hot lava. They wouldn’t.
That was my biggest concern. Panic. Mayhem and misinformed people. Chaos.
I was more worried about how people would react more than how the mountain would erupt.
When I teach First Aid, CPR, Emergency Management and Response I always say Stay Calm, Don’t Panic.
But honestly, I don’t know how to teach Don’t Panic. I think it only comes with experience. Once you’ve been in a jam, a bad situation and you come out the other side OK then you learn Don’t Panic.
A friend once told me my philosophy is It’s all good in the end. And if it ain’t good then it ain’t the end.
By and large, I think that’s true. It comes from being in emergency situations and surviving them. Popping out the other side unscathed. I am sure that’s how I learned Don’t Panic.
At 9pm on September 22nd we got notice. Agung was elevated to Level IV (caution)- the highest level. A quick check on the government websites confirmed.
Time to leave.
So with my wife and five year old daughter we loaded our motorbike with four medium sized bags and took off into the night.
The roads were crowded. Thousands of motor bikes. Hundreds of bemos. Dozens of large trucks all on the main road heading out of town.
There was a steady stream of traffic from Karangasem in East Bali towards the south into the safe zones. But overall it was smooth.
The traffic was moving. A few people were panicking but by and large it was going well.
We had a motor bike. We have friends. We have options. Not everyone does.
Along the way we saw folks waiting on the side of the road hoping to hop in a truck or possibly waiting for someone to come and pick them up.
The waiting and imagining. Not knowing. That’s the worst part.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to be waiting on the side of the road during an evacuation and hoping you will get a ride or your ride will arrive in time.
Excruciating. Nerve wracking.
A few trucks were headed the other way. Presumably to evacuate folks from the 12km radius of the No Go Zone.
An hour later we were at a friends house in the safe zone. We’re 20km+ from the caldera. The government has evacuation camps set up nearby.
The restricted zone is a radius of 12km at the moment. With that designated as the No Go Zone no one should be within that area but some folks have no choice.
Stories of farmers getting cheated by folks that bought their cows for next to nothing were already circulating. The poorest farmers on the slope of Agung would be hit the hardest. They would potentially lose their livestock and their land.
They were the ones living in the No Go Zone and being evacuated on big trucks with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.
Some folks were taking advantage of this and buying the cattle at next to nothing rates from panicked farmers that saw no other choice.
Sad. Infuriating. Reality.
Luckily, not everyone is like that.
One farmer sent out a notice that he would house cows for free! People could relocate them to his land and he would feed them and keep them until the danger passed.
Other folks were reaching out and helping.
From what I could see who you were, where you were from, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, white or brown didn’t matter any more.
It all dropped away. We only saw people. Other people doing what we were doing. Preparing to leave.
People weren’t stopping to ask. They were just helping and doing what they could.
During a time of crisis those things don’t truly matter. People were helping each other however they could. We were sharing updates and information. Folks were carrying and loading stuff for each other.
The superficial differences disappeared. People helping people.
When will we learn that those differences never truly matter? Seriously.
We’re lucky. We had plenty of warning and the majority of folks have been evacuated to safe zones and camps or made it to friends and family.
Now the work begins.
We have to be in this for the long haul. We can’t predict when the eruption will occur and folks might be in the camps for months.
There’s no way to know. We can’t predict or control the situation.
What we can control is our reaction and the actions we take.
We’ll be working with the local camps to bring in supplies and more importantly to work with the children in the camps to provide some fun, education, entertainment and stave off the boredom that’s likely to come in the long term.
Please let me know if you want to get involved and help out!
We’ll especially need volunteers to work with students as well as school supplies. Games, coloring books, crayons and fun stuff for kids!