Volcano ash closes Bali airport again

Volcano ash closes Bali airport again
PHOTO: AFP

DENPASAR - Ash spewing from a volcano led to the closure of the airport on the Indonesian resort island of Bali for a few hours yesterday, for the third time this month, forcing the cancellation of flights and stranding tourists during a peak holiday season.

Mount Raung on Indonesia's main island of Java, which has been rumbling for weeks, sent an ash cloud floating over Bali, the Transport Ministry said.

However, the shutdown was brief, with the island's Ngurah Rai airport reopening about two hours later as the ash was blown away.

The ash also closed two small airports on Java serving domestic routes, and both remained shut yesterday afternoon.

"Passengers are more prepared and we are more coordinated, so the situation is less hectic than the first time," a spokesman for Angkasa Pura I, which manages the Ngurah Rai airport, said.

Volcanic ash from Raung had already closed Bali airport twice this month, between July 9 and July 12, forcing almost 900 flights to be cancelled or delayed, and creating a backlog that took days to clear.

The closure of Bali, which attracts millions of visitors from around the world to its palm-fringed beaches every year, has come during one of the busiest times of the year for the tourist industry.

The latest shutdown will also cause disruption for domestic tourists, as millions are making their way back home after going away for last week's Muslim holiday of Eid.

Australian airlines Virgin Australia and Jetstar said they were cancelling flights yesterday to and from Bali, a favourite holiday destination for Australians.

It was not immediately clear how many flights had been cancelled by the new airport closure.

Indonesian government vulcanologist Gede Suantika said Raung was shooting ash 3,000m into the air yesterday, and the wind was blowing it south-east towards Bali.

Air traffic is regularly disrupted by volcanic eruptions in Indonesia, which is home to the world's highest number of active volcanoes - at around 130. The main concern for airlines is not that the volcanic ash can affect visibility but rather that it could damage aircraft engines.

Meanwhile, in the Moluccas islands in eastern Indonesia, 755 residents were evacuated in Ternate Pulau District, as Mount Gamalama continued to exhibit signs of increased activity.

This was the second evacuation sparked by Gamalama this week. On Sunday, at least 886 villagers were sent scurrying for safety.

The airport on Moluccas' island of Ternate was shut and hundreds were left in limbo last Thursday because of ash drifting from Gamalama, which spewed ash to a height of 1,000m.

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