Bali volcano stops flights again while tourists struggle to leave



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KARANGASEM, Indonesia (Reuters) – Indonesia closed the airport on its Bali holiday island for the third consecutive day on Wednesday, when the erupting volcano Mount Agung threw ash that blocked flight routes and spurred authorities to accelerate efforts of evacuation.

A large column of ash and white and gray smoke floated over Agung, after the night rain had partially darkened the fiery glow seen in its heyday in the last days.

President Joko Widodo implored residents living in an area near Agung that it is considered in danger that they seek refuge in emergency centers, as the winds that send a cloud of ash towards the southwest of the island stopped again the flights.

The Bali airport, the second largest airport in the country, will remain closed until at least 7 a.m. on Thursday (2300 GMT on Wednesday), said the transport ministry.

Some stranded Chinese tourists seemed confused and upset about their situation.

"All Chinese here feel (is) dangerous (because of) the mountain," said Richard Cao. "You know that in China we do not have such a mountain and it is the first time we face this kind of problem."

Another said that his group had received little help in their efforts to leave, other than being told to take a ferry to the neighboring island of Java and fly through Surabaya.

"The travel agency left us alone," said the pbadenger, who declined to be identified. "They told us we had to go to Surabaya, but they could not even book the ticket, so why should we go to Surabaya?"

Officials from the Chinese consulate in Bali met with tour operators on Tuesday to take steps to help stranded tourists, who had earlier warned about the risk of getting stuck.

The Chinese have overtaken the Australians as the main visitors to Bali, representing around a quarter of arrivals in the period from January to September.

Mount Agung volcano erupts as seen from Amed, Karangasem Regency, Bali, Indonesia, November 29, 2017. REUTERS / Darren Whiteside

The closure of the airport caused the interruption of up to 443 domestic and international flights , about 60 km (37 miles) from Mount Agung.

Ten alternative airports are ready to receive diverted incoming flights, said the airport operator, adding that he was helping people make alternative reservations.

Some tourists at the I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali seemed relaxed.

"No, it's okay, we're in Bali, we can not complain," said Australia's Lisa White. "It's annoying, but there are worse things that could happen."

Agung rises over eastern Bali at a height of just over 3,000 meters (9,800 feet). Its last major eruption in 1963 killed more than 1,000 people and razed several villages.

Car covers covered with ash, roofs and roads in an area southeast of the crater. The children wore masks to walk to school.

Authorities want residents within a radius of approximately 8 km to 10 km (5 miles to 6 miles) around the volcano to head to emergency centers, warning that a larger eruption could be "imminent". But some are reluctant to leave houses and livestock unattended.

"Those who are within a radius of 8 to 10 kilometers must really take refuge for safety," President Widodo told reporters.

He also requested emergency services, military and officials to help evacuees and help stranded tourists to get home.

"There should be no victims affected by the eruption," said Widodo.

Additional reporting by Cindy Silviana in JAKARTA; Written by Ed Davies; Edition by Clarence Fernandez

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