59,000 travellers stranded in Bali as Mt Agung erupts

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Threat warning of Bali's Mount Agung raised to highest level after eruptions intensify

Nearly 60,000 travellers were stranded in Bali after the island's main airport was closed yesterday due to the eruption of Mount Agung, and the Indonesian authorities raised the threat warning to the highest level after its eruptions intensified.

The disaster management agency (BNPB) said 100,000 people would now have to leave the danger zone around the mountain, up from 40,000 evacuees.

BNPB yesterday warned of the growing risk from lava and mudflows, and urged all remaining villagers in the 8km to 10km danger zone to leave.

The 3,000m-high volcano has been belching huge amounts of ash high into the air, forcing Bali's Ngurah Rai airport to close yesterday for 24 hours.

The airport said in a statement that 445 flights - 196 international and 249 domestic - and 59,000 passengers were affected.

Bali Governor I Made Mangku Pastika said the closure of the airport could last longer than 24 hours.

On the neighbouring island of Lombok, the international airport resumed some flights yesterday after it was closed on Sunday due to ash clouds, which are moving now in a more southerly direction.

Abrasive ash clouds are a danger to aviation and can badly damage aircraft engines.

Mount Agung lies some 70km from Bali's main airport and its top tourist areas, which attract some 5 million tourists annually. It has been rumbling since September, forcing tens of thousands to flee to shelters.

It began a series of mild eruptions, called phreatic eruptions, last week.

The nature of the eruptions has changed, the BNPB said, with lava now spewing out.

On Sunday night, a bright orange glow at the volcano's summit could be seen, signalling that potentially greater eruptions are very imminent, the BNPB said.

The agency issued the highest level four warning alert at 6am yesterday.

Tremors had also greatly increased.

"Eruptions, tremors are continuing until now. Lava is filling up the crater, and will spill over any time and flow down the slope," a BNPB spokesman said.

But he also said the expected eruption will not be as large as the one from 1963 to 1964, the last time the mountain exploded into life in a series of eruptions that killed more than 1,500 people.

Residents have been told to evacuate the danger zone, which has been expanded up from 6km to 7.5km.

The authorities have been ordered to immediately distribute masks to several villages in affected areas.

Indonesia's hotel and restaurant association said yesterday that stranded tourists at member hotels would get one night's free stay.