Volcanic eruption shuts 2 airports in Indonesia, stranding thousands in Bali, Lombok

BALI, Indonesia – Thousands of tourists are stranded on two Indonesian islands after ash from the Mount Rinjani volcano forced the closure of two airports and blanketed villages and farmlands.

Mount Rinjani on Lombok Island blasted ash and debris 3,500 metres (11,480 feet) into the air on Wednesday, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman.

The eruption shut down flights at the Ngurah Rai international airport in Bali, about 135 kilometres (84 miles) from Lombok, and the Selaparang airport in Mataram, the capital of West Nusatenggara province, located on Lombok Island.

Airlines were told to avoid routes near the mountain and a decision about reopening the two airports would be made early Thursday, said Transportation Ministry spokesman Julius Barata.

The airport closures affected thousands of travellers, including those flying on Australian carriers Jetstar and Virgin Australia.

At Bali’s airport, many travellers complained about a lack of information about their delayed flights and some were sleeping on benches inside terminals.

Farms and trees around the 3,726-meter (12,224-feet) -high volcano were covered in thick grey ash, but nearby towns and villages were not in danger, Nugroho said.

Rinjani is among about 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia. The archipelago is prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes because of its location on the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a series of fault lines stretching from the Western Hemisphere through Japan and Southeast Asia.