Bali airport closes as island awaits major volcanic eruption


Indonesian authorities evacuated some 100,000 people in the island of Bali and shut its airport after Mount Agung volcano erupted, prompting airlines to cancel about 445 flights linking one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia.

Relocation from around Mount Agung’s crater began as volcanologists warned of a “very high likelihood” for a larger eruption, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency said in a statement Monday. The volcano expelled ash clouds as high as 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) above the crater and residents as far as 12 kilometers away reported low explosive noises and flares.

From Qantas Airways Ltd. to Malaysia Airlines, carriers canceled flights as Bali’s international airport will remain closed until 7 a.m. local time on Tuesday. Volcanic eruption and ash spreading across skies is dangerous for aircraft to fly through. In 2010, when Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland erupted, carriers were forced to cancel several thousand flights and billions lost in revenue.

“The big concern would be if this situation prolongs as we get into the year-end peak season,” said K Ajith, an analyst at UOB Kay Hian Pte. in Singapore. “For now, airlines can redeploy some of their capacity to other destinations like to Thailand.”

PT Garuda Indonesia, the national flag carrier, and airlines such as Thai Air halted flights to the island’s Ngurah Rai International Airport. The aerodrome scrapped 445 takeoffs and landings Monday, according Israwadi, the corporate secretary of PT Angkasa Pura I, the operator.

The airlines have been monitoring the volcano since tremors increased in late September, prompting the disaster agency to raise its alert to the highest level. The Bali airport handles about 2,600 international flights a week, according to CAPA Centre for Aviation.

Bali’s association of hotels and restaurants asked its members to offer one night of free accommodation and discounts for subsequent stay to stranded tourists, Chairman Tjok Oka Artha Ardhana Sukawati said in a statement. The association’s members, including Hard Rock Hotel and the Sheraton, aren’t obligated to comply with the request.

“It’s a matter of reputation for Bali’s hospitality that we help the visitors affected by Mount Agung when they most need it,” the chairman said by text message.

The transport ministry has prepared 100 buses as well as ferries to carry tens of thousands of people who have been stranded to the nearest operating airports on Java and Lombok islands. Some flights have been diverted to the nearby Surabaya and Makassar cities, the ministry said in a statement.

Countries including Singapore and Canada issued travel advisories for Bali. A prolonged eruption would risk disrupting an International Monetary Fund-World Bank Group meeting set to be held on the island next October.

The Indonesian archipelago is lined with volcanoes, and eruptions have often disrupted flights. A prolonged closing could pose a significant threat to Bali’s economy, which relies on tourism-driven hotels and restaurants for more than 20 percent of its gross domestic product. The island’s beaches, surfing, culture and nightlife make it among Asia’s most popular travel destinations, attracting about 3.4 million foreign visitors in January to July this year.

Mount Agung last blew up in 1963, throwing debris as high as 10 kilometers in the air, wrecking dozens of villages in a radius of about 7 kilometers and claiming more than 1,000 lives. Mudflows caused by heavy rainfall afterward killed an additional 200 people, and a second eruption three months later killed 200 more. Since then, the volcano has occasionally belched smoke and ash.