Bali volcano spews smoke and ash, disrupting flights
DENPASAR, Indonesia (UPDATED) – A volcano on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali sent plumes of smoke and steam thousands of meters into the air Sunday, November 26, for the 3rd day in a week, triggering flight disruptions and leaving thousands of tourists stranded, officials said Sunday.
Mount Agung spewed smoke and ash as high as 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) Sunday morning, causing at least 15 departing or arriving flights to be canceled Sunday afternoon, according to a spokesman for Bali's airport.
Indonesia's volcanology center has put out a red alert warning airlines of a possible eruption, with a likely significant emission of ash into the atmosphere. But as of Sunday afternoon Bali's Ngurah Rai airport was still open.
The decision to delay or divert flights was up to individual airlines, said 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," Ahsanurrohim told Agence France-Presse.
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.
But on the nearby island of Lombok, also a popular tourist destination east of Bali, the airport was closed on Sunday evening as wind blew ash from Mount Agung in that direction.
"I've received a refund from my airline. Now I'm trying to go to Lombok by boat, hopefully the harbor is open," said Ismono, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
The ring of fire
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 home as the alert was lowered to the second-highest level.
But Mount Agung rumbled again last Tuesday, November 21, forcing at least 25,000 people to seek shelter. Authorities urged people living within 7.5 kilometers (4.5 miles) of the mountain to evacuate.
The mountain sent smoke up into the air on Saturday, November 25, 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.
Dozens of Balinese Hindus took part in ceremonies near the volcano on Sunday, offering prayers in the hope of preventing an eruption.
Officials later on Sunday said the activity could be a magmatic eruption – one which involves the decompression of gas and results in the spewing of ash – and advised people near the mountain to wear masks.
But authorities have decided not to raise the alert back to the highest level just 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 center Kasbani.
In September hundreds of tremors happened daily near Mount Agung, while during the past few days only a couple of tremors could be felt.
Mount Agung is one of more than 120 active volcanoes extending the length of Indonesia, which straddles the Pacific Ring of Fire. – Rappler.com