JAKARTA – A volcano on the Indonesian island of Bali that has been spewing ash and lava into the sky has led to the evacuation of up to 100,000 people from the surrounding area and the closure of airports, according to the country’s disaster management agency (BNPB) on Monday.
BNPB director Sutopo Purwo Nugroho estimated that between 90,000 and 100,000 people had been evacuated after Mount Agung – which has been ejecting ash and lava since Nov. 25 – had its first magmatic eruption since 1963.
There was a chance of a major eruption, Nugroho said during a press conference, noting that lava continued to fill the crater and that once it went beyond the top it would slide down the volcanic slopes.
Indonesia’s Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation raised the eruption alert level to maximum and extended the safety zone to a 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) radius around the volcano.
The operator of the now closed Ngurah Rai International Airport, PT Angkasa Pura, estimated that some 445 flights and 59,000 air passengers had been affected.
The airport, also known as Bali Denpasar Airport, was closed at 7 am on Monday and would remain shut for 24 hours, while reviews were being conducted every six hours.
“Flight operations at Bali Denpasar Airport (DPS) are currently suspended due to Agung volcanic ash,” said a note on the airport’s website.
Of the flights canceled, 249 were national and 196 international, while seven alternative airports were on standby for emergencies, according to a statement by PT Angkasa Pura’s corporate secretary.
Located in the east of the island in the district of Karangasem and far from most tourist attractions, Mount Agung has been belching ash into the sky at a height of between 2,000 and 3,400 meters (6,561-11,154 feet), leading authorities to recommend people wear protective masks.
The ash cloud also caused the closure of the international airport on the island of Lombok, east of Bali, on Sunday afternoon.
Monday saw Mount Agung’s first magmatic eruption since 1963, when the volcano ejected lava for almost a year and caused more than 1,100 deaths.
Bali is the main tourist destination in Indonesia, with an annual influx of around 5.4 million foreign tourists, according to official data.
The Indonesian archipelago sits within the so-called Pacific “Ring of Fire,” an area of great seismic and volcanic activity that is shaken by thousands of tremors every year, most of small magnitudes.