Bali's erupting Mount Agung spews ash up to 4,000m as airport remains open

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Airlines have been issued a "red warning" about the danger of volcanic ash in the skies close to Bali.
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Mount Agung erupts for a second time.
Balinese Hindus take part in a ceremony, where they pray near Mount Agung in hopes of preventing a volcanic eruption. PHOTO: AFP
Balinese Hindus walk after praying as Mount Agung volcano erupts, at Besakih Temple in Karangasem, Bali. PHOTO: REUTERS
Mount Agung volcano is seen spewing smoke and ash in Bali. PHOTO: REUTERS
Mount Agung volcano erupts as seen from Culik Village, Karangasem, Bali. PHOTO: REUTERS
Mount Agung during an eruption seen from Kubu sub-district in Karangasem Regency, Bali. PHOTO: AFP
An evacuee stays at an emergency shelter as the Mount Agung volcano spews volcanic ash in Bali, Indonesia, on Nov 26, 2017. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Evacuees stay at an emergency shelter as the Mount Agung volcano spews volcanic ash in Bali, Indonesia, Nov 26, 2017. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Passengers are seen waiting for flight information following the eruption of Mount Agung volcano at Ngurah Rai Airport in Bali. PHOTO: RUETERS

JAKARTA - Bali's Mount Agung volcano erupted on Sunday (Nov 26), spewing a column of ash up to 4,000m into the atmosphere and forcing the authorities to ban flights over the area.

The island's airport 70km south of the volcano remains open but flights have been disrupted, officials said.

In the most powerful series of eruptions so far, the volcano erupted three times on Sunday morning, spreading ash as high as 4,000m, said a spokesman for the national disaster management agency (BNPB), Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

In a Twitter message on Sunday afternoon, he said the nature of the latest eruptions had changed.

"Since last night the eruption has been a magmatic type eruption, not phreatic," referring to the switch from a steam-driven eruption to one with magma.

"That's what has caused the eruption to continue to produce smoke and dark volcanic ash."

No lava is ejected during phreatic eruptions, which are a precursor of volcanic activity. Such eruptions involve only steam and ash.

Volcanologist Simon Carn said on his Twitter account: "Summit glow at #Agung indicates magma likely at or near surface. Satellites also detected thermal anomalies overnight."

The ash cloud is moving to the south-east of the crater, heading to nearby Lombok, BNPB's Dr Sutopo said. Flights to and from Lombok have also been affected.

The centre of volcanology and geological hazard mitigation (PVMBG) raised the volcano observatory notice for aviation to the highest level, he added. Planes were banned from flying above the territory.

PVMBG said on its website that the colour code for aviation has been increased from orange to red, the highest.

"VONA (Volcano Observatory Notice for Aviation) colour code red means only certain areas are affected. It does not mean the airport must close," Dr Sutopo told The Straits Times.

Bali's Mount Agung during an eruption on Sunday (Nov 26) morning. PHOTO: BNPB

Flights at Bali's main Ngurah Rai airport resumed on Sunday after several airlines opted to cancel flights on Saturday night, Mr Wayan Ari, an information officer at Ngurah Rai airport, told The Straits Times.

There were some cancellations on Sunday, said Ms Rahayu (who goes by one name), another information officer at Ngurah Rai airport. She said earlier on Sunday at least three international flights and one domestic flight, all arrivals, have been cancelled on Sunday.

Local residents evacuate their catles to a safe area as the Mount Agung volcano spews volcanic ash in Bali, Indonesia, on Nov 26, 2017. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

On the neighbouring island of Lombok, the airport was closed at 5.15pm local time.

"Flight routes to Lombok are blocked by volcanic ash so access from all directions are not possible," Director-general of air transport Agus Santoso told reporters.

Earlier, Ms Oki Ovaliani, an information officer at Lombok airport, told The Straits Times that Garuda cancelled flights to Bali, Surabaya, Jakarta and Bima.

AirAsia tweeted that all flights to and from Bali and Lombok were either cancelled or rescheduled.

Volcanic ash on a mobile phone screen after Saturday's eruption. PHOTO: BNPB

Mount Agung has been rumbling since September, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee to shelters. It began a series of mild eruptions, called phreatic eruptions, last week.

The mountain's last major eruption occurred in 1963, killing more than 1,000 people.

The authorities have been ordered to immediately distribute masks to several villages in affected areas.

The volcano also erupted on Saturday, starting at 5.30pm local time and going on for some time, with ash going up 1,500m.

Saturday's eruptions caused eight scheduled arrivals and 13 departures to be cancelled by several airlines, affecting a total of 2,087 passengers, according to BNPB.

Local residents living within a radius of 6km to 7.5km, depending on which side of the volcano they are on, have been urged to evacuate. These areas have been declared as danger zones, although some residents have opted to stay.

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