Flights resume as Bali’s volcano-hit airport opens

Flights resume as Bali’s volcano-hit airport opens

DENPASAR, Indonesia - Agence France-
Flights resume as Bali’s volcano-hit airport opens

Thousands of foreign tourists were expected to leave Bali by plane yesterday following a nearly three-day airport shutdown sparked by a rumbling volcano on the Indonesian holiday island.

The alert level on Mount Agung remains at the maximum, but a change in wind direction blew towering columns of ash and smoke away from the airport, prompting authorities to re-open the island’s main international gateway on Nov. 29 afternoon.

The move raised hopes for some of the 120,000 tourists stranded after the surge in volcanic activity grounded hundreds of flights since Nov. 27, sparking travel chaos and forcing the evacuation of villagers living in its shadow.

Ash is dangerous for planes as it makes runways slippery and can be sucked into their engines.

“Since the airport reopened yesterday, some flights have resumed operation and things are gradually getting back to normal,” said airport spokesman Israwadi, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

More than 4,500 people have now flown out of the airport, authorities said.

On Nov. 29 evening, domestic carrier Garuda said it would start flights to several cities across the vast archipelago nation, while AirAsia flew to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

However, the airport on nearby Lombok island -- also a popular tourist destination -- closed again yesterday after ash and smoke drifted in its direction.

Millions of tourists visit the palm-fringed island hotspot annually. The majority are Chinese, followed by Australians, Indians,

Britons and Japanese, according to the immigration office, which added that nearly 25,000 foreigners live on the small Hindu-dominated island.