Bali airport reopens after new volcano ash shutdown

Bali airport reopens after new volcano ash shutdown
PHOTO: AFP

DENPASAR, Indonesia - The airport on the Indonesian resort island of Bali reopened Sunday after an erupting volcano forced its closure for the second time in just a few days and caused fresh travel misery for stranded holidaymakers.

Mount Raung on Indonesia's main island of Java has been erupting for weeks, and on Thursday a cloud of drifting ash forced the closure of Bali airport during peak holiday season, and four others.

The airport on the resort island, a top holiday destination that attracts millions of foreign tourists every year, reopened two days later as the ash drifted away, allowing some passengers to board flights home and others to arrive.

However the cloud returned Sunday morning, forcing authorities to shut the airport again. But the new closure lasted just a few hours and the airport was reopened in the afternoon as the ash shifted, the government said.

"Full, normal operations have resumed, however planes are to fly in and out from a westerly direction to avoid the ash," transport ministry spokesman J. A. Barata told AFP.

Thousands of tourists who were visiting the tropical island famed for its palm-fringed beaches found themselves waiting for days at Bali's Ngurah Rai airport, near the island's capital Denpasar, anxiously watching departure boards, sitting and sleeping on the floor.

The second closure added to the sense of chaos as many holidaymakers had headed to the airport to catch flights which had been delayed by the first shutdown.

"Someone just said the airport was closed for at least six hours ... gotta be kidding," said one stranded tourist, Steve Dunthorne, on Twitter, after hearing the news about the second closure.

"Standing in queue for check-in like a lemon. Staff look as confused as passengers."

Bad timing

The disruption comes at a bad time, with many Australians stuck in Bali after heading there for the school break and millions of Indonesian tourists setting off on holiday ahead of the Muslim celebration of Eid next week.

Another airport on Java serving domestic routes remained shut Sunday, Barata said. The other three originally closed Thursday, including the international airport on popular Lombok island, east of Bali, had reopened earlier.

After Bali airport reopened Sunday, Indonesian national flag carrier Garuda said that flights diverted due to the ash cloud would head back, while budget airline AirAsia announced services from the island were resuming.

Australian carriers Jetstar and Virgin earlier said they were cancelling all their flights in and out of Bali on Sunday due to the new shutdown.

About 300 flights to and from Bali were cancelled Friday after the first closure. Airport officials could not give a figure for the number of flights affected by Sunday's closure.

Indonesian government vulcanologist Gede Suantika said that Mount Raung continued to erupt Sunday, spewing ash up to 1,000 metres (3,200 feet) into the air, and the wind had in the morning pushed the cloud of dust towards Bali, some 90 miles (140 kilometres) away.

Authorities raised the alert status of Mount Raung, a 3,300-metre volcano, late last month to the second highest level after it began to spew lava and ash high into the air.

Air traffic is regularly disrupted by volcanic eruptions in Indonesia, which sits on a belt of seismic activity running around the basin of the Pacific Ocean and is home to the highest number of active volcanoes in the world, around 130.

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