Bali’s international airport has been shut for a second day as Mount Agung continues to spew towering columns of volcanic ash.
Indonesian authorities have renewed warnings and told citizens living near the volcano they may be forcibly evacuated if they do not leave their homes.
The Ngurah Rai airport was closed on Monday morning for 24 hours, with more than 400 flights and cancelled and 59,000 travellers stranded.
On Tuesday the Transportation Ministry announced that 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.
Mount Agung has been hurling clouds of white and dark grey ash about 9,800 feet above its cone since the weekend and lava is welling in the crater. Its explosions can be heard over 7 miles away.
Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency raised the volcano’s alert to the highest level on Monday.
It said a larger eruption is possible, though a top government volcanologist has also said the volcano could continue for weeks at its current level of activity and not erupt explosively.
Agung’s last major eruption in 1963 killed about 1,100 people.
Authorities have told 100,000 people to leave homes that are in close proximity to the volcano, though as of Monday tens of thousands stayed because they felt safe or didn’t want to abandon livestock. They have also warned people of the danger of mudflows from the volcano as it’s now 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.
Bali is Indonesia’s top tourist destination, with its Hindu culture, surf beaches and lush green interior attracting about 5 million visitors a year.
A Chinese tour service, Shenzhen PT Lebali International, had about 20 groups totaling 500 to 600 travellers from the Chinese cities of Wuhan, Changsha and Guangzhou in Bali, according an executive, Liao Yuling, who was on the island.
“They are mostly retirees or relatively high-end, so they don’t say they are especially anxious to rush home,” she said by telephone.
If the airport stays closed, Liao said they would head by ferry and bus to Surabaya on Java where the company’s charter flights could pick them up.
“We are not really affected, because the volcano is too far away,” said Liao. “We only can say we saw pictures of it on television.”