Indonesia extends Bali airport closure due to Mount Agung eruption

PHOTO: Reuters

JAKARTA/AMED, Indonesia - Indonesia's transportation ministry said on Tuesday it will extend the closure of Bali's I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport for a further 24 hours because of ash from the eruption of the island's Mount Agung volcano.

A report from local aviation navigation authorities showed that "aircraft flight channels are covered with volcanic ash" the ministry said in a statement.

Bali airport, about 60 km (37 miles) from the volcano, will be closed until 7 a.m. local time on November 29, it said.

Ten alternative airports have been prepared for airlines to divert inbound flights, including in neighbouring provinces.

A separate notice showed Lombok airport had been reopened, after an earlier closure overnight due to the eruption.

Agung rises majestically over eastern Bali to a height of just over 3,000 metres (9,800 feet).

On Monday, authorities ordered 100,000 residents living near the volcano to evacuate immediately, warning that the first major eruption in 54 years could be "imminent". An 8-10 km (5-6 miles) exclusion zone has been imposed around the summit.

Agung's last eruption in 1963 killed more than 1,000 people and razed several villages by hurling out pyroclastic material, hot ash, lava and lahar.

Authorities raise Mount Agung's threat warning to highest level

  • Bali's Ngurah Rai airport was closed on Monday (Nov 27) until Tuesday morning.
  • On the neighbouring island of Lombok, the international airport resumed flights on Monday morning after it was closed on Sunday due to ash clouds.
  • Indonesia's disaster management agency (BNPB) spokesman, Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, said in a statement that the volcano,
  • which began to spew lava on Saturday, has also continuously ejected ash while the sound of intermittent eruptions can be heard as far as 12km away.
  • Lava is molten rock or magma that has erupted from the volcano.
  • A bright glow from the lava on the volcano summit was often seen on Sunday night,
  • signalling that potentially greater eruptions are very imminent, Dr Sutopo said.
  • BNPB issued the level four warning alert, which is the highest possible, at 6am.
  • Residents have been told to evacuate from the danger zone, which has been expanded to between 8 to 10km from 6 to 7.5km.
  • "The estimated danger zones are dynamic and are under consistent evaluation,
  • and may change anytime depending on the most actual observation data," Dr Sutopo said.
  • He also warned residents to be alert for cold lava around Mount Agung.
  • "Cold lava floods have started to hit several places on the foot of the volcano," he said on Twitter.
  • All observation stations around Mount Agung have been recording tremendously higher intensity of tremors since Sunday, state news agency Antara reported citing Mr Gede Suantika of the Volcanology and Disaster Mitigation Centre.
  • The volcano, the highest point in Bali and located about 75 kilometres from the tourist hub of Kuta, has been rumbling since August.
  • More than 34,000 people have fled from a rumbling volcano on the resort island of Bali as the magnitude of tremors grows,
  • prompting fears it could erupt for the first time in more than 50 years, an official said.
  • Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency said the number of people fleeing their homes surrounding the volcano had tripled amid growing alarm that Mount Agung could erupt at any moment.
  • The airport has prepared buses and trains to divert passengers to alternative hubs in neighbouring provinces if the mountain erupts.
  • Flight disruptions due to drifting ash clouds are not uncommon in Indonesia, which sits on a belt of seismic activity known as the "Ring of Fire".
  • Bali officials said the island was still generally safe but urged tourists to stay away from tourism spots located within the danger zone.
  • Indonesia is home to around 130 volcanoes due to its position on the "Ring of Fire", a belt of tectonic plate boundaries circling the Pacific Ocean where frequent seismic activity occurs.
  • The volcano agency's chief Kasbani said Mount Agung had a history of major eruptions that eclipsed recent episodes in Indonesia, including the 2010 eruption of Mount Merapi in Central Java that claimed at least 350 lives.

On Tuesday, life continued largely as normal in villages surrounding Agung, with residents setting up traditional markets and offering prayers as the volcano continued to spew tall columns of ash and smoke from its crater.

Many residents evacuated in September when the alert was last raised to the highest level have returned to their homes and farms due to worries over their livelihood and livestock.

Indonesia's Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Centre (PVMBG), which is using drones, satellite imagery and other equipment, said predictions were difficult in the absence of instrumental recordings from the last eruption 54 years ago.

It warned that if a similar eruption occurred, it could send rocks bigger than fist-size up to 8 km (5 miles) from the summit and volcanic gas a distance of 10 km (6 miles) within three minutes.

Recordings now show the northeast area of Agung's peak has swollen in recent weeks "indicating there is fairly strong pressure toward the surface", PVMBG said.

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