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Bali volcano: 59,000 stranded as airport shut; mass evacuation ordered

Authorities ordered a mass evacuation of people on Monday from an expanded danger zone around an erupting volcano on Bali that has forced the Indonesian island’s international airport to close, stranding tens of thousands of travellers.

Mount Agung has been hurling clouds of white and dark grey ash about 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) into the atmosphere since the weekend. A mudflow of volcanic debris and water are known as a lahar was filmed moving down the volcano’s slopes.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency raised the alert to the highest level on Monday and expanded the danger zone to 10 kilometres in places from the previous maximum of 7.5 kilometres. It said in a statement that a larger eruption is possible.

Spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a news conference in Jakarta that the extension of the danger zone affects 22 villages and about 90,000 to 100,000 people.

He said about 40,000 people have evacuated but others have not left because they feel safe or don’t want to abandon their livestock.

“Authorities will comb the area to persuade them,” he said. “If needed we will forcibly evacuate them.” About 25,000 people were already living in evacuation centres after an increase in tremors from the mountain in September sparked an evacuation.

Bali’s airport was closed early Monday after ash reached its airspace. Flight information boards showed rows of cancellations as tourists arrived at the busy airport expecting to catch flights home.

Airport spokesman Air Ahsanurrohim said 445 flights were cancelled, stranding about 59,000 travellers. The closure is in effect until Tuesday morning though officials said the situation will be reviewed every six hours.

Bali is Indonesia’s top tourist destination, with its gentle Hindu culture, surf beaches and lush green interior attracting about 5 million visitors a year.

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