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Bali volcano triggers air traffic chaos
November 27, 2017
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DENPASAR: A volcano on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali sent plumes of grey smoke and steam thousands of metres into the air on Sunday for the third day in a week, triggering flight disruptions and leaving thousands of tourists stranded, officials said.

Mount Agung spewed smoke and ash as high as 4,000 metres on Sunday morning, causing several departing or arriving flights to be cancelled on Sunday afternoon, according to a spokesman for Bali’s airport.

Indonesia’s volcanology centre has put out a red alert warning airlines of a possible eruption, with a likely significant emission of ash into the atmosphere. But as of Sunday afternoon Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport was still open.

The decision to delay or divert flights was up to individual airlines, said airport spokesman Arie Ahsanurrohim.

“We try to make the airport as comfortable as possible for the passengers affected. So far we have provided special rooms for them to unpack their luggage and video entertainment so they can relax a bit,” Ahsanurrohim told AFP.

At least 2,000 passengers are affected by the flight disruption, mostly tourists from Australia.

“I am meant to be at work tomorrow. How am I going to pay my bills?” said Sydney-based tourist Jake Vidler.

But on the nearby island of Lombok, also a popular tourist destination east of Bali, the airport was closed on Sunday evening as wind blew ash from Mount Agung in that direction.

“I’ve received a refund from my airline. Now I’m trying to go to Lombok by boat, hopefully the harbour is open,” said Ismono, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

After resuming flights in morning, Virgin Australia again canceled flights on Sunday afternoon following a change in the aviation colour code from orange to red.

“Due to the significant volcanic ash and current weather conditions, we have made the decision to cancel the rest of today’s flights to and from Bali as a precautionary measure,” Virgin said in a statement on its website.

AirAsia also cancelled its remaining flights to Bali and Lombok.

Qantas and Jetstar flights were continuing as of Sunday afternoon but Jetstar warned on its website that flights could be subject to change at short notice for safety reasons.

Indonesia’s flag carrier Garuda said it was cancelling all flights to and from Lombok.

If ash tests came up positive, Lombok airport would be closed, airport officials said.

Indonesia’s disaster agency has said Bali is “still safe” for tourists except for a 7.5-kilometre zone around Mount Agung.

Mount Agung last erupted in 1963, killing nearly 1,600 people.

It rumbled back to life in September and authorities raised the alert to the highest level, forcing 140,000 people living nearby to evacuate.

The volcano’s activity decreased in late October and many people returned to their home as the alert was lowered to the second-highest level.

But Mount Agung rumbled again last Tuesday, forcing at least 25,000 people to seek shelter. Authorities urged people living within 7.5 kilometres of the mountain to evacuate.

The mountain sent smoke up into the air on Saturday for the second time in a week in what volcanologists call a phreatic eruption — one which is caused by the heating and expansion of groundwater.

Officials later on Sunday said the activity could be a magmatic eruption — one which involves the decompression of gas and results in the spewing of ash — and advised people near the mountain to wear masks.

AFP/Reuters

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