Volcano gushing ash over Bali closes airport for a 2nd day

KARANGASEM, Indonesia (AP) — A volcano gushing towering columns of ash closed the airport on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali for a second day Tuesday, disrupting travel for tens of thousands, as authorities renewed their warnings for villagers to evacuate.

Mount Agung has been hurling clouds of white and dark gray ash about 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) high and lava is welling in its crater.

The local airport authority said its closure for another 24 hours was required for safety reasons. Volcanic ash poses a deadly threat to aircraft, and ash from Agung is moving south-southwest toward the airport. Ash has reached a height of about 30,000 feet (9,000 meters) as it drifts across the island.

“I don’t know, we can’t change it,” said stranded German tourist Gina Camp, sitting on a bench at the airport. “It’s the nature and we have to wait until it’s over.”

She decided to look on the bright side, saying she planned to go back outside to enjoy another day on the island.

Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency raised the volcano’s alert to the highest level Monday and expanded an exclusion zone to 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the crater. It said a larger eruption is possible, though a government volcanologist has also said Agung could stay at its current level of activity for weeks and not erupt explosively.

NASA detected a thermal anomaly over the weekend, said Gede Swantika, a senior volcanologist in Bali.

“It means that there’s a direct conduit from the magma storage chambers in the crust up to the surface,” said Richard Arculus, a volcano expert at Australian National University. “What stops most eruptions from happening is that you don’t have a conduit from where the magma’s reached, to the surface. Once you’ve got that opened …. it means there’s easier access for the magma upward out into the open.”

Agung’s last major eruption in 1963 killed about 1,100 people.

Authorities have told 100,000 people to leave homes nearest the volcano, though tens of thousands stayed because they felt safe or didn’t want to abandon livestock. Mudflows have been seen on the mountain’s slopes, and authorities warned more are possible, since it’s the rainy season in Bali.

Volcanologist Erik Klemetti at Dennison University in Ohio said Agung’s 1963 eruption was big enough to cool the Earth slightly but it’s unclear whether this time it will have a similar major eruption or simmer for a prolonged period.

“A lot of what will happen depends on the magma underneath and what it is doing now,” he said.

The closure of the airport has affected tourists already on Bali and people who were ready to fly to the island from abroad or within Indonesia. Airport spokesman Ari Ahsanurrohim said more than 440 inward and outward flights were canceled Tuesday and about 59,500 travelers were affected, about the same number as on Monday.

Bali is Indonesia’s top tourist destination, with its Hindu culture, surf beaches and lush green interior attracting about 5 million visitors a year.

Buses were deployed to the airport and to ferry terminals to help stranded travelers, Indonesia’s Directorate General of Land Transportation said.

The agency’s chief, Budi, said major ferry crossing points have been advised to prepare for a surge in passengers and vehicles. Stranded tourists could leave Bali by taking a ferry to Java and then traveling by land to the nearest airports.

Ash has settled on villages and resorts around the volcano and disrupted daily life outside the immediate danger zone.

“Ash that covered the trees and grass is very difficult for us because the cows cannot eat,” said Made Kerta Kartika from Buana Giri village. “I have to move the cows from this village.”

Indonesia sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire” and has more than 120 active volcanoes.

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Wright reported from Jakarta. Associated Press writers Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta, Joe McDonald in Beijing and Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.

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