March 26, 2013 – 50 Years Ago Mount Agung Killed over 1,500 People: Mount Agung or Gunung Agung is a mountain in Bali, Indonesia. This stratovolcano is the highest point on the island. It dominates the surrounding area, influencing the climate. The clouds come from the west and Agung takes their water so that the west is lush and green and the east dry and barren. Pictured above, view from the top of Mount Agung. That’s Mount Rinjani on the horizon.
The Balinese believe that Mount Agung is a replica of Mount Meru, the central axis of the universe. One legend holds that the mountain is a fragment of Meru brought to Bali by the first Hindus. The most important temple on Bali, Pura Besakih, is located high on the slopes of Gunung Agung.
Gunung Agung last erupted in 1963-1964 and is still active, with a large and very deep crater which occasionally belches smoke and ash. From a distance, the mountain appears to be perfectly conical, despite the existence of the large crater.
From the peak of the mountain, it is possible to see the peak of Mount Rinjani on the island of Lombok, although both mountains are frequently covered in clouds (see picture above).
On February 18, 1963, local residents heard loud explosions and saw clouds rising from the crater of Mount Agung. On February 24, lava began flowing down the northern slope of the mountain, eventually traveling 7 km in the next 20 days. On March 17, the volcano erupted (VEI 5), sending debris 8 to 10 km into the air and generating massive pyroclastic flows. These flows devastated numerous villages, killing approximately 1500 people. Cold lahars caused by heavy rainfall after the eruption killed an additional 200. A second eruption on May 16 led to pyroclastic flows that killed another 200 inhabitants.
The lava flows missed, sometimes by mere yards, the Mother Temple of Besakih. The saving of the temple is regarded by the Balinese people as miraculous and a signal from the gods that they wished to demonstrate their power but not destroy the monument the Balinese faithful had erected.
Symmetrical Agung stratovolcano, Bali’s highest and most sacred mountain, towers over the eastern end of the island. The volcano, whose name means “Paramount,” rises above the SE caldera rim of neighboring Batur volcano, and the northern and southern flanks of Agung extend to the coast. The 3142-m-high summit of Agung contains a steep-walled, 500-m-wide, 200-m-deep crater. The flank cone Pawon is located low on the SE side of Gunung Agung. Only a few eruptions dating back to the early 19th century have been recorded from Agung in historical time. Agung’s 1963-64 eruption, one of the worlds largest of the 20th century, produced voluminous ashfall and devastating pyroclastic flows and lahars that caused extensive damage and many fatalities.
The Master of Disaster