Stranded tourists depart Bali as volcanic ash cloud shifts

Airlines add extra flights to Bali to help visitors fly out

Airlines laid on extra flights to Bali yesterday to allow some of the thousands of passengers stranded by the eruption of Mount Agung to fly out, as a switch in wind direction sent volcanic ash away from the island's airport.

Agung was partially shrouded by cloud yesterday with parts of Bali lashed by monsoon rain. According to officials, there were persistent tremors from the crater.

"Mount Agung continues to erupt, ejecting volcanic ash up to 2,000m in height," said Mr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency said via Twitter.

Earlier in the week, Agung had ejected showers of rocks up to 4km, he said.

While Bali's airport was open again on Wednesday after a more than two-day closure, the airport on neighbouring Lombok island was closed yesterday due to ash from Agung, air traffic control provider AirNav said.

Bali airport's call centre said three flights had left early yesterday, while nine had arrived.

Its website showed dozens of flights scheduled to fly to Singapore, Seoul, Perth and other cities.

Two Chinese state-owned airlines on Wednesday night sent flights to pick up more than 2,700 Chinese tourists from Bali, Xinhua news agency said.

China Southern Airlines sent two planes from Guangzhou and Shenzhen, while China Eastern Airlines flew in four planes from Beijing and Shanghai, it said.

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

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

Asked about the economic impact of the eruption, Indonesia's Tourism Minister Arief Yahya has estimated that since the volcano warning level was first raised in September, the loss in revenue could be more than US$650 million (S$877 million). - REUTERS