ESCAPE FROM BALI: Thousands of Aussies to arrive home today
MORE than 4300 Australians stranded in Bali after a volcanic ash cloud threw their plans into disarray are expected to fly home today.
Denpasar Airport reopened on Wednesday after the cloud from the Mount Agung eruption cleared, allowing major airlines to resume flights. Qantas and Jetstar will operate 10 scheduled services and an extra eight relief flights on Friday, arriving in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide and Cairns.
"Volcanic activity and ash cloud are unpredictable and flights may be cancelled at short notice," a Jetstar spokeswoman said in a statement on Thursday evening.
There will be three Virgin Australia flights from Bali on Friday, but none of the airlines are taking passengers to the popular holiday spot due to the risk of further volcanic activity and disruptions.
The first of the flights back to Australia arrived in Perth on Thursday afternoon and subsequent services landed in Melbourne and Sydney in the evening. Many endured an uncomfortable end to their holidays, with WA man Phil Wickham describing "cold, wet" nights spent sleeping at the airport. "It also gets really hot and steamy It's not pleasant," he said.
Domestic carrier Garuda said it would start flights to several cities across the vast archipelago nation, while AirAsia was set to fly to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.
All other international flights were on standby.
Australian tourist Ebra Syllivan was overjoyed at the prospect of getting back home.
"I didn't know it was going to reopen today - we just came here because our flight was (originally scheduled for) tonight and we've booked out of our motel," she said at the airport.
"It's fabulous because we need to get back. We've got to get back to work."
The ash cloud wreaked havoc with the travel plans of thousands of tourists.
Not that the cancellations were worrying some Australians.
On the other side of Bali, at Sanur beach, the distant crackle of lightning and an afternoon rain shower were the only annoyances for tourists lounging on sun beds and sipping cocktails.
For them, the airport's closure means an extended holiday.
The Ngurah Rai airport's communications and legal division head, Ari Ahsanurrohim, said a meeting of the airport's emergency operations centre decided the airport would reopen.
It ended three days of chaos at the airport after its closure, which left up to 150,000 travellers stranded.
Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin flights to and from Bali had been cancelled due to the ash cloud.
Passengers were given the option of flying to other destinations including Phuket, Singapore, Fiji or Tokyo.
Australian travel insurance companies also warned customers would only be covered if they bought policies up to nine weeks ago - before warnings were issued by the Indonesian government.
'BIGGER, EXPLOSIVE ERUPTION'
Tens of thousands had already fled their homes around the volcano - which last erupted in 1963, killing around 1600 people - but as many as 100,000 will likely be forced to leave in case of a full eruption, disaster agency officials have said.
Experts said Agung's recent activity matches the build-up to the earlier disaster, which ejected enough debris - about a billion tonnes - to lower global average temperatures by around 0.3 degrees Celsius for roughly a year.
"Small eruptions have been happening continuously but there's still the possibility of a bigger, explosive eruption," said I Gede Suantika, a senior volcanologist at Indonesia's volcanology agency.
"Activity remains high and we are still on the highest alert level."
Roadside signs that read "Volcanic danger zone. No entry!" underscored the potential risks of staying behind.
There is a 10 kilometre exclusion zone around Agung, which is 75 kilometres from the beachside tourist hub of Kuta.
Around 440 flights had been cancelled since the start of the week.
The airport on nearby Lombok island - also a popular tourist destination - had opened and closed several times in the past few days. It is currently open.
Some 100 buses were still taking visitors to several destinations including Indonesia's second-biggest city Surabaya on Java island - 13 hours' drive and a ferry ride away - and the capital Jakarta, as torrential rain lashed the island.
"We decided to take the bus because in this island we are very nervous and we want to stay in another island, we want to be in Java," said Sofia Maria, a 24-year-old Russian tourist on her way to Jakarta.
The majority of Bali's tourists are Chinese, followed by Australians, Indians, Britons and Japanese, according to the immigration office, which added that nearly 25,000 foreigners live on the small Hindu-dominated island.
Foreigners whose visitor visas are expiring will be given a special permit to stay longer due to the eruption, the agency said.
Agung rumbled back to life in September, forcing the evacuation of 140,000 people living nearby. Its activity decreased in late October and many returned to their homes.
However, over the weekend, the mountain sent smoke into the air for the second time in a week in what volcanologists call a phreatic eruption - caused by the heating and expansion of groundwater.
So-called cold lava flows have also appeared - similar to mud flows and often a prelude to the blazing orange lava of popular imagination.
Indonesia, the world's most active volcanic region, lies on the Pacific "Ring of Fire" where tectonic plates collide, causing frequent volcanic and seismic activities.
Last year seven people were killed after Mount Sinabung on the western island of Sumatra erupted. A 2014 eruption at Sinabung killed 16.
Indonesian geological services had said thermal imaging indicated a large volume of magma is just beneath the volcano's surface.
"Plumes of smoke are occasionally accompanied by explosive eruptions and the sound of weak blasts that can be heard up to 12km from the peak," the Disaster Mitigation Agency said in a statement after earlier raising the alert from three to its highest level of four.
"The potential for a larger eruption is imminent," it said, referring to a visible glow of magma at Mount Agung's peak overnight and warning residents to evacuate a danger zone at a radius of 8-10km.
Authorities had searched the danger zone to ensure all residents have complied with the evacuation order.