ALMOST all flights to and from Bali, Indonesia have been cancelled on Monday following a volcano eruption on Mount Agung, leaving thousands of tourists stranded on the popular resort island and airlines scrambling to provide latest updates.
The flights were diverted away from the island’s airport due to the warning and the presence of volcanic ash from the erupting Agung.
In a statement, the Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar said a total of 445 flights – 196 international and 249 domestic – were cancelled. The closure of the airport affected over 59,000 passengers.
Australian carriers Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Qantas advised passengers between 10am and 11am on Monday that all flights were cancelled, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
“While these disruptions are frustrating, we will always put safety before schedule,” Jetstar said in a statement.
In an online update, Virgin Australia said it cancelled all its flights to Bali.
“We’re continuing to closely monitor Mount Agung in Bali. Due to increased volcanic ash and current weather conditions, Denpasar Airport is now closed and we have cancelled today’s flights.”
Airlines have set customer service desks at the international terminal, while consulates have also set up desks to render assistance.
Five alternative airports have been prepared for airlines to divert inbound flights, such as airports in neighboring provinces.
Bali airport’s official website showed flights operated by Singapore Airlines, Sriwijaya, Garuda Indonesia, Malaysia Airlines and Jetstar had been cancelled.
AirAsia cancelled 32 flights and rescheduled two other flights following the eruption.
The low-cost carrier said it would keep customers updated and provide them with available options via e-mail, according to The Star.
Air Asia’s passengers were also advised to check their flight status via the “Manage My Booking” feature on the AirAsia website.
The airline was also allowing affected customers to change to a new travel time on the same route within 30 calendar days from the original flight without additional cost.
Indonesia raised its alert level for the volcano to the highest stage four on Monday and told residents to immediately evacuate areas near the summit, warning of the “imminent” risk of a larger eruption.
“Continuing plumes of smoke are occasionally accompanied by explosive eruptions and the sound of weak blasts that can be heard up to 12 km (seven miles) from the peak,” the Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said in a statement.
“Rays of fire are increasingly visible from night to the following day. This indicates the potential for a larger eruption is imminent,” it said.
It warned residents within an eight-to-1okm radius around the volcano to evacuate immediately.
Bali, famous for its surf, beaches and temples, attracted nearly five million visitors last year but business has slumped in areas around the volcano since September when Agung’s volcanic tremors began to increase.
Agung rises majestically over eastern Bali at a height of just over 3,000m (9,800 feet). When it last erupted in 1963, it killed more than 1,000 people and razed several villages.
“In anticipation of the possibility and imminent risk of disaster, PVMBG (the Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation Centre) raised Mount Agung alert level from three to four,” it said in a statement.
Additional reporting by Reuters