Jakarta/Singapore — Mount Agung volcano on the Indonesian island of Bali erupted, prompting authorities to evacuate about 100,000 people and shut the airport in one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia.
The government has been relocating people from around Mount Agung’s crater as volcanologists warned of an imminent larger eruption.
The volcano expelled ash clouds as high as 4,000m above the crater and residents as far as 12km away reported low explosive noises and flares, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the National Disaster Mitigation Agency, said on Monday.
Carriers including Qantas Airways and Malaysia Airlines cancelled flights as Bali’s international airport remains closed until 7am 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 more than 100,000 flights with about $1.7bn in lost 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 in Singapore. "For now, airlines can redeploy some of their capacity to other destinations like to Thailand."
PT Garuda Indonesia, the national flag carrier, along with regional airlines scrapped flights to the island’s Ngurah Rai International Airport. 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.
The transport ministry has prepared 100 buses as well as ferries to carry stranded passengers to 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. Tens of thousands of travelers have been affected, Nugroho said.
Countries including Singapore and Canada issued travel advisories for Bali.
A prolonged eruption could disrupt an International Monetary Fund-World Bank 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% 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 in 1963, throwing debris as high as 10km in the air, wrecking dozens of villages in a radius of about 7km and claiming more than 1,000 lives.
Mud flows 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.