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Flights resume as tourists scramble out of Bali

The alert level on Mount Agung remains at 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 Wednesday afternoon.

'Ring of Fire'-- Indonesia

Airlines laid on extra flights to the Indonesian holiday island of Bali on Thursday to allow thousands of passengers stranded for days by an erupting volcano to fly home as a switch in wind direction blew the ash away.


Indonesia, the world's most active volcanic region, lies on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" where tectonic plates collide, causing frequent volcanic and seismic activities.

Experts said Agung's recent activity matches the build-up to the earlier disaster, which ejected enough debris -- about a billion tonnes -- to lower global average temperatures by around 0.3 degrees Celsius for roughly a year.

(Photograph:AFP)

Volcanologists call it a phreatic eruption

Korean Air said it had sent a charter flight. Jetstar said it would fly 3,800 passengers on 10 scheduled flights and six relief flights back to Australia on Thursday. It also encouraged customers booked to fly to Bali up to Dec. 7 to look at alternative destinations.

From January to September, Bali received 4.5 million foreign tourists, nearly half of the 10.5 million arrivals in Indonesia.

Chinese have overtaken Australians to become the top visitors to Bali, representing around a quarter of arrivals on the island.

Losses in revenue could be more than $650 million since the volcano warning level was first raised in September, Indonesian Tourism Minister Arif Yahya estimated.

Agung looms over eastern Bali to 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.

(Photograph:AFP)

Ash makes runway slippery

Authorities are urging people living up to 10 km (6 miles) from the summit to move to emergency centres, but tens of thousands don't want to leave their homes and livestock unattended.

The disaster mitigation agency said on Wednesday about 43,000 people had moved to shelters, but many were thought to be staying put as up to 100,000 people are estimated to live within the danger zone.

"We cannot predict whether it will be bigger than 1963, but ... according to our evaluation the potential for a full-scale eruption is still high," Devy Kamil Syahbana, an official at Indonesia's centre for volcanology and geological disaster mitigation centre, told Reuters.

(Photograph:AFP)

'The volcano is still on the highest alert level.' : Indonesian volcanology agency

While the volcano appeared to be belching less ash and smoke on Thursday, experts urged caution and have warned a major eruption -- could happen at any moment. It has already experienced a series of mini eruptions.

"The potential for an eruption is still there, but we cannot predict how big the eruption is going to be," said Devy Kamil, a senior volcanologist from the Indonesian volcanology agency.

(Photograph:AFP)

'Volcanic danger zone. No entry!'-- Mount Agung

The alert level on Mount Agung remains at 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 Wednesday afternoon.

Experts said Agung's recent activity matches the build-up to the earlier disaster, which ejected enough debris -- about a billion tonnes -- to lower global average temperatures by around 0.3 degrees Celsius for roughly a year.

The 10-kilometre radius around Mount Agung is littered with roadside signs that read "Volcanic danger zone. No entry!", underscoring the potential risks.

(Photograph:AFP)

Bali airport reopened on Wednesday after being closed on Monday

More than 4,500 people have now flown out of Bali's main airport, authorities said, with around 3,200 of them on international flights.

The move opened an eagerly awaited window for some of the 120,000 tourists stranded after the surge in volcanic activity grounded hundreds of flights, sparking travel chaos and forcing the evacuation of villagers living in its shadow.

The shifting wind direction was being caused by cyclone Cempaka which is battering Indonesia's main Java island -- west of Bali -- and has left at least 19 people dead in severe flooding and landslides.

(Photograph:AFP)