Thousands stranded as Bali’s Mt Agung eruption shuts airport

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Thousands of local and foreign passengers were stranded on Friday as Bali shuttered its international airport after the Indonesian resort island’s Mount Agung volcano shot a thick plume of ash and smoke thousands of metres into the sky, officials said.

The early morning closure of Ngurah Rai airport resulted in the cancellation of 446 flights, including more than 200 international arrivals and departures, with as many as 15,700 passengers affected, according to news reports.

“Safety remains the main reason for the decision to close the airport,” disaster management spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in a statement.

Ash is dangerous for planes as it makes runways slippery and can be sucked into their engines.

Bali’s main international gateway will be closed until at least Friday evening, according to officials who spoke to AFP news agency.

Two other airports in East Java were also ordered closed on Friday, according to DPA news agency.

Mount Agung has been spewing clouds of ash up to 2,500 metres into the air since Wednesday. However, the authorities’ warning level remains one notch below the highest advisory.

A danger zone has been set in a 4km area surrounding the volcano’s crater and some 300 local residents from around the mountain were evacuated voluntarily.

The volcano is about 75km from Bali’s tourist hub in Kuta [AP]

On Thursday evening, a striking orange-red glow could be seen at the top of the volcano after it shot smoke and ash into the sky.

The fresh activity threatens to create travel chaos after Mount Agung eruption in November stranded thousands and pounded Bali’s lucrative tourism industry and wider economy.

Tens of thousands of locals fled to evacuation centres after last year’s eruption.

The volcano is about 75km from Bali’s tourist hub in Kuta.

Bali’s governor said officials were working on getting visitors on their way.

“We will try our best to find a solution so all visitors can continue their trip,” Made Mangku Pastika said.

Agung has been erupting periodically since it rumbled back to life last year.

Its last major eruption in 1963 killed around 1,600 people.

Indonesia is the world’s most active volcanic region and lies on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” where tectonic plates collide, causing frequent volcanic and seismic activities.

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