by Our Foreign Staff, The Telegraph, June 29, 2018
The Indonesian tourist island of Bali closed its international airport on Friday, stranding thousands of travellers, as the Mount Agung volcano gushed an 8,200-feet column of ash and smoke.
The National Disaster Mitigation Agency said nearly 450 flights were cancelled, affecting some 75,000 people.
The regional Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in Darwin, Australia, said winds would carry the ash southwest toward Java, Indonesia’s most densely populated island. Volcanic ash is a potentially deadly threat to aircraft that can cause engines to "flame out."
The volcano began belching ash and smoke on Thursday and several airlines cancelled inbound and outbound flights scheduled for the evening.
"We hadn’t a place to stay for the night so we had to find something else, just took a taxi and stayed at a random hostel," said a stranded German backpacker who identified herself as Louisa. "We hoped we could leave this morning, but the airport is closed," she said.
Two small airports, at Banyuwangi and Jember in eastern Java, also closed because of the ash threat.
Agung’s alert level has not been raised and an exclusion zone around the crater remains at 2.5 miles.
The disaster agency said the closure of Bali’s airport was in effect until 7 pm.
Australia’s national airline Qantas said in a statement that it’s "currently not safe" to operate Bali flights.
It said it was monitoring advice from the ash advisory centre and its own pilots and meteorologists would decide when flights can resume.
Australian visitor Rod Bird came early to the airport only to be told his flight back to Perth had been cancelled for the second time.
An earlier flight on AirAsia was called off before the airport was shuttered early Friday morning.
"They told us the volcano is going off so they rebooked us for this morning and we got here at 5:00 am only to be turned away again. So we've had two cancelled flights," Bird told AFP.
"Well it's Bali, these things happen and we are fine with it. We just miss the kids," he added.
The volcano, about 45 miles northeast of Bali’s tourist hotspot of Kuta, last had a major eruption in 1963, killing about 1,100 people.
It had a dramatic increase in activity last year, forcing the e vacuation of tens of thousands of people, but had quietened by early this year. Authorities lowered its alert status from the highest level in February.
Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 250 million people, sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" and is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Government seismologists monitor more than 120 active volcanoes.