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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Thousands stranded as Bali volcano shuts down flights

Red alert warns airlines of a possible eruption with a significant amount of ash in the air

Mount Agung volcano erupts as seen from Culik Village, Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia. Nyoman Budhiana/Reuters
Mount Agung volcano erupts as seen from Culik Village, Karangasem, Bali, Indonesia. Nyoman Budhiana/Reuters

A volcano on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali sent plumes of grey smoke and steam thousands of metres into the air Sunday for the third day in a week, triggering flight cancellations that have left thousands of tourists stranded, officials said Sunday.

Mount Agung spewed smoke and ash as high as 4,000 metres Sunday morning, causing at least 28 departing or arriving flights to be delayed or cancelled, said a spokesman for Bali's airport.

Indonesia's volcanology centre has put out a red alert warning airlines of a possible eruption, with a likely significant emission of ash into the atmosphere. But, at the time of writing, Bali's Ngurah Rai airport was still open.

The decision to delay or divert flight was up to individual airlines, said the airport spokesman Arie Ahsanurrohim.

"We try to make the airport as comfortable as possible for the passengers affected. So far we have provided special rooms for them to unpack their luggage and video entertainment so they can relax a bit," Mr Ahsanurrohim said.

At least 2,000 passengers are affected by the flight disruption, mostly tourists from Australia.

"I am meant to be at work tomorrow. How am I going to pay my bills?" said Sydney-based tourist Jake Vidler.

Several domestic flights have also been cancelled such as to the nearby island of Lombok, also a popular tourist destination east of Bali. The wind has blown Mount Agung's ash in that direction.

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"I've received a refund from my airline. Now I'm trying to go to Lombok by boat, hopefully the harbour is open," said Ismono who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name.

Mount Agung last erupted in 1963, killing nearly 1,600 people.

It rumbled back to life in September and authorities raised the alert to the highest level, forcing 140,000 people living nearby to evacuate.

The volcano's activity decreased in late October and many people returned to their homes as the alert was lowered to the second-highest level.

But Mount Agung rumbled again last Tuesday, forcing 25,000 people to seek shelter. Authorities urged people living within 7.5 kilometres of the mountain to evacuate.

The mountain spewed smoke and ash on Saturday for the second time in a week in what volcanologists call a phreatic eruption - one which is caused by the heating and expansion of groundwater.

Authorities have decided not to raise the alert back to the highest level yet.

"This time the tremors and quakes caused by the volcano's activities are significantly less than in September," said the head of Indonesia's volcanology centre Kasbani.

Mount Agung is one of more than 120 active volcanoes extending the length of Indonesia, which straddles the Pacific Ring of Fire.

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