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Bali reopens airport after volcano eruption strands thousands of tourists

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PHOTO:AFP

Bali opened its international airport Friday after a volcanic eruption temporarily grounded flights, stranding thousands of tourists on the Indonesian holiday island

Ngurah Rai airport began operating around 2:30 pm local time (0730 GMT), about 12 hours after it closed in response to Mt. Agung belching smoke and ash.

Ash is dangerous for planes because it makes runways slippery and can be sucked into their engines.

A change in wind direction pushed the ash away from Bali’s international gateway, allowing flights to resume, an airport official said.

“The airport will operate for 24 hours straight to get flights back on schedule,” he added.

The early morning closure sparked the cancellation of more than 300 flights to and from the tropical paradise with nearly 27,000 passengers affected, according to the airport.

About 400 local residents living near the rumbling volcano — about 75 kilometres from Bali’s tourist hub of Kuta — moved to evacuation centres.

A striking orange-red glow could be seen at the top of Agung’s crater after it shot plumes of thick smoke some 2,000 metres (6,500 feet) into the sky Thursday evening.

Authorities closed the airport after a pilot flying overhead detected traces of volcanic ash as high as 23,000 feet.

An eruption at Agung in November also stranded thousands and pounded Bali’s lucrative tourism industry, the backbone of its economy.

Tens of thousands of locals fled to evacuation centres after last year’s eruption.

Australian visitor Rod Bird came early to the airport only to be told his flight back to Perth had been cancelled for the second time.

An earlier flight on AirAsia was called off before the airport was shuttered early Friday morning.

“They told us the volcano is going off so they rebooked us for this morning and we got here at 5:00 am only to be turned away again. So we’ve had two cancelled flights,” Bird told AFP.

“Well it’s Bali, these things happen and we are fine with it. We just miss the kids,” he added.

Thousands were stranded at the airport or nearby hotels Friday, but it was not immediately clear how many tourists were unable to leave the island.

Despite the eruption, Agung’s status remained on alert level, the second highest danger warning.

There is a four-kilometre (2.5 mile) no-go zone around Agung’s peak.

Agung has been erupting periodically since it rumbled back to life last year.

Its last major eruption in 1963 killed around 1,600 people.

Indonesia is situated on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, a vast zone of geological instability where the collision of tectonic plates causes frequent quakes and major volcanic activity.


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