Thousands stranded as Indonesian volcano closes airports

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Passengers at the international terminal at Ngurah Rai airport in Denpasar wait for information on flight delays due to volcanic ash near Bali island on July 10, 2015 (AFP Photo/Sonny Tumbelaka)
Ash drifting from an Indonesian volcano closed five airports on Friday, including the one on the holiday island of Bali, causing about 250 flights to be cancelled and stranding thousands of holidaymakers.
The international airport on popular Lombok island was also among those closed late Thursday as Mount Raung in East Java province spewed clouds of ash, transport ministry spokesman J.A. Barata said.
The closures came during peak holiday season in Bali, a pocket of Hinduism in Muslim-majority Indonesia which attracts millions of foreign tourists every year to its palm-fringed beaches.
"It\’s pretty chaotic," Katie Nagar, an American expatriate living in Indonesia told AFP. She described arriving at the domestic terminal in Bali\’s Ngurah Rai airport to discover her flight on Indonesian flag carrier Garuda to Jakarta had been cancelled and rescheduled to Sunday.
"There\’s basically just hundreds of people camped out on the grassy lawns in front of the airport. There\’s lines of hundreds of people waiting to talk to customer service."
An AFP reporter in the international terminal estimated about 1,000 people were stranded there, with some trying to seek out information from airport officials while others were sitting or sleeping on the floor.
 
Trikora Harjo, general manager at Ngurah Rai, said that 230 flights — 160 domestic and 170 international — had so far been cancelled at the airport due to the ash cloud.
"Right now the authorities have declared that the airport will be closed until 9:30 pm (1330 GMT), totally closed," he said.
Garuda said that it had cancelled a total of 112 flights Friday. Most were to and from Bali airport, but 18 were to other aiports affected by the ash cloud. AirAsia, Virgin Australia and Jetstar, and Air New Zealand confirmed flights to Bali had been cancelled.
 
Authorities raised the alert status of Mount Raung, a 3,300-metre (10,800-foot) volcano, late last month to the second highest level after it began to spew lava and ash high into the air.
 
Indonesian government vulcanologist Surono, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, said eruptions were continuing at the volcano Friday, and it was producing flames and a thundering sound. But authorities said that no evacuations were necessary as those living in the area were already a safe distance away.
Virgin Australia said in a statement that "our team of meteorologists continue to work closely with the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in Darwin and monitor the situation.
"Once conditions improve, additional flights will be scheduled between Australia and Denpasar to ensure we can have guests on their way as soon as possible."
Jetstar also grounded its services and asked passengers to contact them for further information.
The two Australian carriers had already cancelled flights in and out of Bali in recent days due to the volcanic ash, even before the airport was fully closed.
Air New Zealand said that a flight due to depart from Bali on Saturday afternoon had been rescheduled to leave early Sunday, conditions permitting.
Other airports closed by the ash included a second, smaller one on Lombok and two in East Java serving domestic routes.
Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, a belt of seismic activity running around the basin of the Pacific Ocean, and has around 130 active volcanoes.
SOURCE: AFP

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