More travel chaos as volcano closes Bali airport again

More travel chaos as volcano closes Bali airport again

DENPASAR - Ash spewing from an Indonesian volcano closed Bali airport again Sunday, just a day after it reopened, causing fresh travel chaos for weary holidaymakers stranded on the holiday island.

Mount Raung on the 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 at Bali, a top international holiday destination that attracts millions of foreign tourists every year, reopened on Saturday as the ash drifted away, allowing some passengers to board flights home and others to arrive.

But Sunday morning, the transport ministry announced wind had once again pushed the cloud over the resort island and that the airport was being closed again until at least 4:00 pm (0800 GMT).

"We will continue to monitor developments and decide if the closure will be extended later," transport ministry spokesman J.A. Barata told AFP. Many passengers were surprised after the new closure was announced.

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

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

Indonesian passenger Dwi Anggoro had already checked in for his flight to the central Java city of Yogyakarta when the announcement was made.

"Instead of going back, I'll just stay here and wait for developments," he told website.

Another airport on Java serving domestic routes was also closed, he said. The other three originally closed Thursday, including the international airport on popular Lombok island, east of Bali, are now open.

Cancelling flights

Australian carriers Jetstar and Virgin said they were cancelling some flights to Bali on Sunday, while Indonesian flag carrier Garuda confirmed all its flights would be axed until 4:00 pm.

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.

The closure has caused chaotic scenes at Bali's Ngurah Rai airport, with thousands of stranded holidaymakers packing out the terminals, anxiously staring at the departure boards, and sitting and sleeping on the floor.

About 300 flights to and from Bali were cancelled Friday. Airport officials did not immediately know how many flights would be axed due to the new shutdown.

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.

"Our observation this morning showed that the winds had pushed the ash in a southeasterly direction towards Bali again," he added.

Australia's Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre said winds were expected to blow the ash cloud away from the airport overnight or on Monday.

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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