At least 59,000 people are now stranded in Bali after the island closed its airport this morning and cancelled 445 scheduled flights in and out of the popular tourist destination because of concerns about volcanic ash from the erupting Mt Agung volcano.
Passengers booked on flights out of the island joined long queues at the Ngurah Rai airport this morning seeking information from makeshift airline help counters and consular stalls set up in the departure terminal.
The decision to close the airport for at least 24 hours was announced at 7am this morning though dozens of flights were cancelled late yesterday, most of them Air Asia.
The airline cancelled 32 flights late yesterday and last night citing safety concerns, just hours after Virgin Australia, Qantas and Jetstar temporarily resumed flights in and out of Bali after deeming it safe to do so
Airport spokesman Arie Ahsanurrohim told The Australian the decision to close the airport for 24 hours was made after volcanic ash was detected in numerous tests overnight at 26,000 and 30,000 feet.
Volcanic ash poses a serious threat to aviation safety because the fine ash particles can disrupt airline instruments and engines.
Tests were being conducted every six hours to determine the presence of ash over the airport but Mr
Ahsannurrohim conceded there was at best a 50/50 chance of the airport reopening tomorrow morning.
“We have to make decisions based on safety concerns first,” he said. “That has to be our top priority. “
The airport was providing five buses every hour to transport passengers keen to get off the island to one of the island’s two bus terminals and sea port connecting to ferries bound for Lombok or East Java.
Lombok airport was reopened at 6am this morning after it was closed yesterday because of the ash cloud but authorities warned it was being continually assessed and could be closed again.
Mt Agung volcano began showing signs of actvity for the first time in 54 years last September, prompting authorities to instigate a mass evacuation of residents from a radius of up to 12km around the crater.
Some 140,000 people initially fled to hundreds of shelters around the island though all but 25,000 returned to their homes after authorities downgraded the volcano alert level earlier this month from the maximum four to three.
This morning the alert was again raised to four as thick volcanic ash (lahar) flowed down the mountain and into Ban village, 12km north of the volcano.
Fine black ash was also raining down on villages some 20km away though there was only a trickle of new evacuees into major shelters.
North Queenslander Heide Schmidt and her Germany-based sister Christl Schuhmacher said they had been staying in Chandidarsa, south of the volcano, for the past ten days but woke up Sunday morning to find the beach and resort coated in ash.
“They were giving out masks and shower caps to everyone. We had to walk around with an umbrella,” said Ms Schmidt who was lined up with her sister at the temporary Jetstar counter this morning seeking news on her scheduled flight back to Cairns tomorrow.
“everything was covered with ash. I had black feet after walking on the beach. You could really smell the sulphur.”
“It was so fine that when you breathed in it was not good.”
While the two sisters said they were not panicked about getting off the island, others queuing for information were more concerned.
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