DENPASAR (AFP) - Ash drifting from an Indonesian volcano has forced the cancellation of more than 100 flights and closed the airport on the tourist island of Bali, an official said on Friday, stranding thousands of holidaymakers.
Four other airports - an international airport and a smaller one on neighbouring Lombok island and two in East Java serving domestic routes - were also shut late Thursday, as Mount Raung in East Java province spewed clouds of ash, transport ministry spokesman J.A. Barata told AFP.
“This is for safety,” he said, adding that officials were checking the situation every few hours but they did not know yet when the airports might reopen.
Authorities raised the alert status of Mount Raung, a 3,300-metre volcano, late last month to the second highest level after it began to spew lava and ash high into the air.
The ash cloud forced Australian airlines to cancel all flights in and out of Bali on Friday, during the holiday island’s peak season. Bali is a favourite holiday destination for Australians.
An AFP reporter at Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport said there were crowds of foreign tourists stranded at the airport, waiting for further information about their flights.
Indonesia’s flag-carrier Garuda said it had cancelled a total of 112 flights.
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.
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.
Bali, a pocket of Hinduism in Muslim-majority Indonesia, is famed for its palm-fringed, pristine beaches and is visited by millions of foreign tourists every year.