Monday 26 August 2019

Tourists trapped for second day by Bali volcano

A flight information board shows cancelled flights at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali, Indonesia. Photo: PA
A flight information board shows cancelled flights at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali, Indonesia. Photo: PA

Firida Lisnawati

Tens of thousands of tourists were stranded for a second day as a volcano with a deadly history continued to erupt on Bali, spitting ash more than 3km high and stranding tens of thousands of tourists for a second day.

Lava is welling in the crater of Mount Agung, but it remains unclear how bad the eruption might be, or how long it could last.

Authorities have raised the alert to the highest level, and told 100,000 people to leave an area extending 10km from the crater as it belches grey and white plumes into the sky. Agung's last major eruption in 1963 killed about 1,100 people.

Officials extended the closure of Bali's international airport for another 24 hours due to concerns that jet engines could choke on the thick volcanic ash, which was moving across the island.

Airport spokesman Ari Ahsanurrohim said more than 440 flights were cancelled yesterday, affecting nearly 60,000 passengers, about the same as Monday.

Without aircraft, getting in or out of Bali requires travelling hours by land and boat to an airport on another island.

Experts said a larger, explosive eruption is possible, or Agung could stay at its current level of activity for weeks.

"If it got much worse, it would be really hard to think of. You've got a huge population centre, nearly a million people in Denpasar and surroundings, and it's very difficult to envision moving those people further away," said Richard Arculus, a volcano expert at Australian National University, adding that an eruption in 1843 was even more explosive than the one in 1963.

"There are many examples in history where you have this kind of seismic build-up - steam ejections of a little bit of ash, growing eruptions of ash to a full-scale stratosphere-reaching column of ash, which can presage a major volcanic event," he said.

A Nasa satellite detected a thermal anomaly at the crater, said senior Indonesian volcanologist Gede Swantika.

That means a pathway from the storage chamber in the volcano's crust has opened, giving magma easier access to the surface.

Indonesian officials first raised the highest alert two months ago, when a rash of seismic activity was detected at the mountain. More than 100,000 people living near the volcano fled their homes, many abandoning their livestock or selling it for a fraction of the normal price. The seismic activity decreased by the end of October, prompting authorities to lower the alert level.

Tremors increased again last week, and officials upped the alert and ordered another large-scale evacuation, with nearly 40,000 people now staying in 225 shelters.

Irish Independent

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