Wednesday 21 February 2018

Volcano sparks Java travel chaos

A traveller checks the status of flights at Bali's international airport (AP)
A traveller checks the status of flights at Bali's international airport (AP)

Ash spewing from a volcano on Indonesia's main island of Java has sparked chaos for holidaymakers as airports close and international airlines cancel flights to tourist hotspot Bali.

Mount Raung in East Java province, about 90 miles from Bali's international airport, has been rumbling for several weeks. The level of activity has increased in the past week and today it blasted ash and debris 12,000ft into the air.

Government volcanologist Gede Suantika said the eruption forced authorities to close five airports due to the risks posed by volcanic ash, although two airports on Lombok island reopened later.

The transport ministry has told airlines to avoid routes near the mountain, and a decision about reopening other airports will be made later.

Mr Suantika said lava and ash falling from the 10,900ft mountain on Indonesia's most densely populated island has also prompted the government to call on people to stay away from a two-mile danger zone around the volcano.

Evacuation of residents living near the volcano is still considered unnecessary, but authorities are urging people to wear masks.

Volcanic eruptions can cause significant and lengthy disruption to travel. A 2010 eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokul volcano produced an ash cloud that caused a week of international aviation chaos, with more than 100,000 flights cancelled.

"Ash can clog engines and harm other parts of the aircraft," said Transport Ministry spokesman Julius Adravida Barata.

Airports on Bali and at Banyuwangi and Jember in East Java were closed and thousands of travellers stranded.

Flights within Indonesia were already overbooked as tens of millions of the country's Muslims pour out of major cities to return to their villages during an annual mass exodus to celebrate the end of the Islamic holy month.

The volcano has proven particularly problematic for Australians, who flock to Bali during Australia's school holidays.

Dozens of flights between Australia and Bali's Ngurah Rai airport by Australian carriers Jetstar and Virgin Australia have been cancelled over the past week, with the airlines citing safety concerns.

Both carriers said they are looking into adding extra flights between Australia and Bali when conditions improve to help clear the backlog.

At Bali's international airport, some tourists slept on benches or stood at flight information boards filled with "postponed" and "delayed" notifications. Some complained of a lack of information about their delayed flights.

Raung is among about 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia. The archipelago is prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes because of its location on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", a series of fault lines stretching from the Western Hemisphere through Japan and south-east Asia.

Another Indonesian volcano, Mount Sinabung in Sumatra, has been erupting for two months, forcing the evacuation of more than 10,000 people.

Press Association

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