Indonesia raises Bali volcano alert to highest level, airport shut, thousands of tourists stranded

PHOTO: Reuters

DENPASAR, Indonesia - Indonesia raised its warning for Bali's Mount Agung volcano to the top level four alert on Monday, closed the holiday island's airport and told residents near the summit to immediately evacuate, warning of the "imminent" risk of a larger eruption.

Bali's airport was closed for 24 hours, disrupting 445 flights and some 59,000 passengers, due to the eruption warning and the presence of volcanic ash from Agung.

TV footage showed cold lava flows (lahar) at a number of locations on the mountainside. Lahar carrying mud and large boulders can destroy houses, bridges and roads in its path.

"Plumes of smoke are occasionally accompanied by explosive eruptions and the sound of weak blasts that can be heard up to 12 km (7 miles) from the peak," the Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said in a statement.

"The potential for a larger eruption is imminent," it said, referring to the visibility of the glow from magma at Agung's summit overnight.

Residents were warned to "immediately evacuate" a danger zone that circles Agung in a radius of 8-10 km (5-6 miles).

Agung rises majestically over eastern Bali to a height of just over 3,000 metres (9,800 feet). Agung's last eruption in 1963 left more than 1,000 people dead and razed several villages.

"I'm not worried (but) my friends in Russia are a little bit worried," said a Russian tourist, who only wanted to be identified as Dmitry, at an observation post in Rendang in Bali's east.

Bali, famous for its surf, beaches and temples, attracted nearly 5 million visitors last year, and its international airport serves as a transport hub for the chain of islands in Indonesia's eastern archipelago.

Tourism business has slumped in Bali since September when Agung's volcanic tremors began to increase.

"In anticipation of the possibility and imminent risk of disaster, PVMBG (the Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Centre) raised Mount Agung alert level from three to four," it said in a statement.

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.

TRAVELLERS STRANDED

According to the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in nearby Darwin, Australia, there is "ash confirmed on the ground at Denpasar Airport" as well as ash at FL300 (which refers to flight level at 30,000 feet) in the vicinity of the volcano.

Bali's I Gusti Ngurah Rai airport, which is about 60 km (40 miles) from the volcano, will be closed for 24 hours, according to a statement from its operator. It said a total of 445 flights - 196 international and 249 domestic - and 59,000 passengers had been affected.

Five alternative airports have been prepared for airlines to divert inbound flights, such as airports in neighbouring provinces, the statement said.

Bali airport's official website showed flights operated by Singapore Airlines, Sriwijaya, Garuda Indonesia , Malaysia Airlines and Jetstar had been cancelled.

"It is a little bit frustrating because I checked the internet..everything was on schedule, now I am standing here everything was closed," said Jan Nicolai from Germany at Bali's airport.

Television footage showed hundreds of holidaymakers camped inside the airport terminal, some sleeping on their bags, others using mobile telephones.

"We have been here (in Bali) for three days we are about to leave today, but just found out our flights have been cancelled. We have got no information because the gates, the check-ins have been closed indefinitely," said Carlo Oben from Los Angeles.

A transport ministry spokesman said the main airport on the neighbouring island of Lombok had reopened after "no volcanic ash was detected".

Airlines avoid flying when volcanic ash is present because it can cause significant damage to aircraft engines, leading to possible engine failure, and can clog fuel and cooling systems and hamper pilot visibility.

In June 1982, a British Airways 747 suffered severe damage and had all four engines flame out after encountering ash from Mount Galunggung in Indonesia. It descended to 12,000 feet before being able to restart some engines and make an emergency landing in Jakarta.

The alert level on Agung had been raised to the maximum in September, but was lowered in October when seismic activity calmed. However, volcanologists now say the volcano has entered a new phase with magma now visible and meaning a greater risk of a large eruption.