DENPASAR, Indonesia (Reuters) – The ash of a volcanic eruption on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali forced the closure of its international airport and the cancellation of hundreds of flights on Friday, as villagers fleeing their homes rattled Mount Agung.
The eruption, which began on Thursday, fired a towering Column of ash 2,500 meters (8,200 ft) in the sky, and reddish flames illuminated the crater of the volcano overnight.
Indonesia's second largest airport will be closed on Friday until at least 7pm local time (1100 GMT). 85 international flights and 191 domestic flights were canceled, affecting nearly 16,000 people.
There was no indication of how long the outbreak could last, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho of the Civil Protection Agency said in a statement, and the alert on the volcano remains unchanged for the time being.
"Microbitterns are still being discovered … something Magma is pointing to the surface, "Nugroho said.
Mount Agung in northeastern Bali has been erupting at various intensities since the end of last year, and in December the airport was also closed for a period of time and thousands of residents were evacuated closer to the volcano.
According to Nugroho, 309 residents voluntarily went to three evacuation centers in a danger zone four kilometers from the crater on Friday.
Airlines avoid volcano ash flow as they can damage aircraft engines, clog fuel and cooling systems, and obscure visibility.
At Bali International Airport, hundreds of passengers queued in the terminal's lobby to check on the airlines, while some slept on the floor next to their luggage.
"I was very upset when I came to the airport and was closed, my stuff is sitting on the floor for 24 hours and has no accommodation," said Australian traveler Caitlin Bigg at the international terminal.
British traveler Ross Webb said he was ready to extend his stay.
"I imagine many people are frustrated when they want to go home, so I just go back to Bali, extend my stay a bit, and see what happens." Air Asia, Garuda Indonesia, Sriwijaya and Indonesia, said they were working to help stranded passengers Help
Virgin Australia, Qantas and Jet Star watched the situation in consultation with the Burmese Bureau of Meteorology's volcanic ash consulting center, which was scheduled to meet on Friday morning to assess when flights might resume.
Additional coverage by Bernadette Christina Munthe, Cindy Silviana, Jessica Damiana and the Australian Office; Writing by Ed Davies and Fanny Poktin; Arrangement of Simon Cameron-Moore