DENPASAR (Indonesia) • Ash from a volcano forced the Indonesian authorities to briefly close the airport on the resort island of Bali yesterday, sparking flight cancellations and travel misery for tourists during the peak holiday season.
Mount Raung on Indonesia's main island of Java has been rumbling since late June, spewing ash and lava high into the air and causing busy Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali to be shut down four times.
Transport ministry spokesman J. A. Barata said the airport was closed for 21/2 hours from midday.
Australian carriers Jetstar and Virgin Australia announced that they were cancelling flights in and out of Bali yesterday.
The popular holiday destination attracts millions of tourists from around the world every year.
At least three flights heading to Singapore and three departing Singapore were cancelled, according to Changi Airport Group's website.
In addition, at least a dozen flights arriving in Singapore or departing were delayed.
Indonesian government vulcanologist Gede Suantika told Agence France-Presse that the volcano was shooting out ash clouds that were larger than those it had recently been emitting.
"The volcano normally shoots out ash 700m to 800m but it's around 1,000m today," he said.
The disruption comes during peak holiday season, leaving thousands of tourists stranded.
The most serious period was between July 9 and 12, when two closures forced almost 900 flights to be cancelled or delayed and created a backlog that took days to clear.
Air traffic is regularly disrupted by volcanic eruptions in Indonesia, which sits on a belt of seismic activity running around the rim of the Pacific Ocean and is home to the highest number of active volcanoes in the world, with around 130.
Despite Mount Raung's level of activity, it is not about to blow its top, government vulcanologist Surono told The Straits Times.
He described the current activity as a strombolian eruption, which produces frequent, moderate eruptions but not destructive outbursts.
Mount Raung did have major eruptions millions of years ago, shown by its crater's diameter of 2.2km and depth of 500m, he said.
"But up to now, there are no signs Mount Raung will have major eruptions, as per our analysis, including the tremors. We are consistently monitoring," said Dr Surono.
- Additional reporting by Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja in Jakarta and Joanna Seow in Singapore