Thu, Nov 30, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Bali airport reopens as volcanic ash shifts direction

AFP, DENPASAR, Indonesia

Tourists at Lempuyang Temple in Karangasem, Indonesia, take pictures of Mount Agung volcano spewing hot volcanic ash.

Photo: EPA

Bali’s international airport yesterday opened for business after a nearly three-day shutdown, as towering columns of volcanic ash and smoke shifted direction on the Indonesian island.

The move raised hopes for some of the more than 120,000 tourists stranded after a surge in activity at Mount Agung had grounded hundreds of flights since Monday, sparking travel chaos and forcing the evacuation of villagers living in its shadow.

Airport officials cautioned that the airport could shut again if winds change direction once more and endanger flights.

Ash is dangerous for planes as it makes runways slippery and can be sucked into their engines.

“We are going to constantly monitor the situation on the ground,” Ngurah Rai airport spokesman Arie Ahsanurrohim said.

Domestic carrier Garuda said it would start flights to several cities across the vast archipelago nation yesterday evening, while AirAsia was set to fly to the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. All other international flights were on standby.

Australian tourist Ebra Syllivan was overjoyed at the prospect of getting back home.

“I didn’t know it was going to reopen today — we just came here because our flight was [originally scheduled for] tonight and we’ve booked out of our motel,” she said at the airport.

“It’s fabulous because we need to get back. We’ve got to get back to work,” she said.

Mount Agung could produce a major eruption at any moment, officials have said.

Tens of thousands have already fled their homes around the volcano — which last erupted in 1963, killing about 1,600 people.

As many as 100,000 will likely be forced to leave in case of a full eruption, disaster agency officials have said.

Experts said Agung’s recent activity matches the buildup to the earlier disaster, which ejected enough debris — about 1 billion tonnes — to lower global average temperatures by about 0.3oC for about a year.

“Small eruptions have been happening continuously, but there’s still the possibility of a bigger, explosive eruption,” said I Gede Suantika, a senior volcanologist at Indonesia’s Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation.

“Activity remains high and we are still on the highest alert level,” he said.

Roadside signs that read “Volcanic danger zone. No entry!” underscored the potential risks of staying behind.

There is a 10km exclusion zone around Agung, which is 75km from the beachside tourist hub of Kuta.

As of yesterday, about 440 flights had been canceled since the start of the week.

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