Mount Agung erupts, flights banned over the area

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Most powerful eruption yet has caused flight disruptions at Bali airports

Bali's Mount Agung volcano erupted yesterday, spewing a column of ash up to 4,000m into the atmosphere and forcing Indonesian authorities to ban flights over the area.

The island's airport, 70km south of the volcano, remains open but flights have been disrupted, officials said.

In the most powerful series of eruptions so far, the volcano erupted three times yesterday morning, spreading ash as high as 4,000m, said a spokesman for the national disaster management agency (BNPB), Dr Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

In a Twitter message yesterday afternoon, he said the nature of the latest eruptions had changed.

"Since last night the eruption has been a magmatic type eruption, not phreatic," referring to the switch from a steam-driven eruption to one with magma.

"That's what has caused the eruption to continue to produce smoke and dark volcanic ash."

No lava is ejected during phreatic eruptions, which are a precursor of volcanic activity.

Such eruptions involve only steam and ash.

Volcanologist Simon Carn said on his Twitter account: "Summit glow at #Agung indicates magma likely at or near surface. Satellites also detected thermal anomalies overnight."

The ash cloud is moving to the south-east of the crater, heading to nearby Lombok, BNPB's Dr Sutopo said.

Flights to and from Lombok have also been affected.

The centre of volcanology and geological hazard mitigation (PVMBG) raised the volcano observatory notice for aviation to the highest level, he added.

Planes were banned from flying above the territory.

PVMBG said on its website that the colour code for aviation has been increased from orange to red, the highest.

"VONA (Volcano Observatory Notice for Aviation) colour code red means only certain areas are affected. It does not mean the airport must close," Dr Sutopo told The Straits Times.

Flights at Bali's main Ngurah Rai International Airport resumed yesterday after several airlines opted to cancel flights on Saturday night, Mr Wayan Ari, an information officer at the airport, told ST.

There were some cancellations yesterday, said Ms Rahayu (who goes by one name), another information officer at Ngurah Rai airport.

On the neighbouring island of Lombok, the airport was closed at 5.15pm local time.

Earlier, Ms Oki Ovaliani, an information officer at Lombok airport, told The Straits Times that Garuda cancelled flights to Bali, Surabaya, Jakarta and Bima.

AirAsia tweeted that all flights to and from Bali and Lombok were either cancelled or rescheduled.
Local residents living within a radius of 6km to 7.5km, depending on which side of the volcano they are on, have been urged to evacuate.