Flights resume as Bali’s volcano-hit airport gets back to business

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Thousands of foreign tourists were leaving Bali by plane Thursday 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 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.

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.

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

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

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.

On Wednesday 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 Thursday after ash and smoke drifted in its direction.

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