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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Just Posted

VIU Mariners coach Larry Stefanek. (Black Press File Photo)
Parksville soccer coach Stefanek earns special national certification

VIU Mariners head coach one of 30 in Canada to complete program

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

A B.C. man decided to create a website to help people find family doctors accepting patients. Because Victoria is considered high-demand, clinic openings can’t be posted publicly. (Unsplash)
Vancouver Island man starts website that connects B.C. residents with doctors

Nanaimo man started project to help people find family physicians accepting patients

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Kootenay couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Fort St. John councillor Trevor Bolin (B.C. Conservative Party)
BC Conservatives leader fights back after BC Liberals leak 2018 workplace harassment case

Sexual harassment case was connected to employee being terminated, WorkSafeBC found

Most Read