Bali flights resume, but volcanic ash still disrupts travel

“This is a very unforgettable experience for us. So much hassle and definitely one for the books.”

Flights trickled out of Bali a day after its airport reopened but the erupting volcano there shut down air travel to a neighbouring Indonesian island Thursday, showing the continued risk to aircraft from the towering ash clouds.

Mount Agung has been gushing black-grey columns of volcanic dust and steam since the weekend and glowing a dramatic red at night as lava wells in its crater.

Bali’s airport was closed from early Monday until Wednesday afternoon, stranding tens of thousands of travellers on the idyllic resort island famous for its Hindu culture, surf beaches and lush interior.

It reopened after the hazardous ash clouds changed direction, but the threat has now closed the small international airport on Lombok island until at least Thursday evening.

Australia’s Jetstar said it would have 16 flights out of Bali on Thursday, six more than usual, which would take about 3,500 Australians home. Two South Korean airlines said they were sending charter flights on Thursday, one to Bali and another to Surabaya on the neighbouring island of Java, which some tourists have reached by ferry and bus, to collect as many as 700 Koreans.

Figures from the airport showed 23 flights, mostly domestic, carried about 1,600 passengers out Wednesday. Inbound flights included a Singapore Airlines jet with only two passengers.

The volcano was erupting less furiously Thursday. The Disaster Mitigation Agency said the ash plume was rising about 2,000 metres above the crater, about half its previous height. As ash has drifted away from the mountain, it has reached heights of 25,000 feet (7,600 metres), posing a threat to aircraft.

Despite the all-clear for Bali’s airport, flights are unlikely to rapidly return to normal levels and a change in the direction of the ash or a new more powerful eruption could force the airport’s closure again.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo ordered ministries and agencies, the military and police to help Bali’s government deal with the disaster, and he has urged anyone inside the mountain’s exclusion zone to get out “for the sake of their safety.”

Authorities have told 100,000 people to leave an area extending up to 10 kilometres (6 miles) from the volcano. About 40,000 people are staying in 225 shelters, the disaster agency said, but tens of thousands more have stayed they feel safe or don’t want to abandon homes and livestock.

In the village of Tulamben inside the exclusion zone, farmers were plowing their fields with cattle Wednesday, seemingly unbothered by the smoking mountain behind them swelling with orange lava.

In Sukadana village, about 8 kilometres from the crater, a few remaining residents said mudflows of volcanic debris and water had passed through the area for a couple of days before solidifying.

Some stranded tourists managed to get off the island before the airport reopened, but they faced an arduous journey involving crowded roads, buses, ferries and sometimes overnight waits in yet another airport in Surabaya on the island of Java.

“This is a very unforgettable experience for us. So much hassle and definitely one for the books,” said Sheryl David, a tourist from Manila, Philippines, who arrived Saturday in Bali with three friends and was supposed to leave Tuesday. She said the experience didn’t dampen her feelings about the island.

“Yes, still a paradise,” she texted.

The volcano’s last major eruption, in 1963, killed about 1,100 people, but it is unclear how bad the current situation might get or how long it could last. A worst-case scenario would involve an explosive eruption that causes the mountain’s cone to collapse.

“An analogy would be the twin towers collapsing in New York on 9-11,” said Richard Arculus, a volcano expert at Australian National University. “You saw people running away from the debris raining down and columns of dust pursuing people down the street. You will not be able to outrun this thing.”

Indonesian officials first raised the highest alert two months ago when seismic activity increased at the mountain. The activity decreased by late October, and the alert was lowered before being lifted to the highest level again Monday.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and has more than 120 active volcanoes.

____

Associated Press journalists Ali Kotarumalos and Margie Mason in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Kiko Rosario in Bangkok contributed to this report.

Stephen Wright, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

Just Posted

Blackfalds RCMP respond to serious collision

Car collides with moose, driver suffers life threatening injuries

Stellar cast lights up the stage with The Other Side of the Pole

Prime Stock Theatre’s latest offers up a magical holiday mix

Red Deer RCMP investigate Oriole Park home invasion

RCMP believe it was a targeted home invasion, targeting wrong residence

Blackfalds RCMP investigate break and enter at Fas Gas

RCMP search for suspect who cut through an outside wall to gain access

Lacombe Community Christmas Dinner on the way

Doors open at noon on Dec. 25th with dinner served at 12:30 p.m.

WATCH: The public gets a taste of robotics

Lacombe students show off their skills in Red Deer

Firefighter dies, thousands more take on California blaze

This is second death linked to the Thomas fire, northwest of Los Angeles

Missing Alberta man could be headed to Victoria

Police in Alberta say Vernon “Allan” Pickard has not been heard from since late November

Cineplex charges extra at some Star Wars screenings

Fans are getting a surprise twist at the box office with extra $1 charges for assigned seating

Three-car pile-up on Northstar Drive and 58th Street

No injuries reported at Thursday afternoon incident

FCC votes along party lines to end ‘net neutrality’

Move rolls back restrictions that keep big providers from blocking services they don’t like

5-year anniversary of Sandy Hook shooting

When just saying ‘I’m from Newtown’ can be a cross to bear

Disney buying part of 21st Century Fox in $52.4B deal

Disney is buying a large part of the Murdoch family’s 21st Century Fox for about $52.4 billion

Bountiful polygamist believed he couldn’t be prosecuted: lawyer

Winston Blackmore’s lawyer says Blackmore did not believe he could be prosecuted

Most Read