Tourists leave as Bali’s volcano-hit airport gets back to business

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Passengers gather at the Gusti Ngurah Rai International airport in Denpasar, Bali on November 27. A change in wind direction blew towering columns of ash and smoke away from the airport prompted authorities to re-open the island’s main international gateway on Wednesday afternoon. (AFP)
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Above, lava inside the crater of Mount Agung volcano reflects off ash and clouds while it erupts. President Joko Widodo on Wednesday urged people to leave the exclusion zone before it was too late. (Reuters)
Updated 30 November 2017
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Tourists leave as Bali’s volcano-hit airport gets back to business

DENPASAR, Indonesia: Thousands of foreign tourists were leaving Bali by plane Thursday after an airport shutdown sparked by a rumbling volcano, but some visitors were irate at not being able to get off the Indonesian island paradise sooner.
The alert level on Mount Agung remains at maximum. But a change in wind direction blew towering columns of ash and smoke away from the airport, prompting authorities to re-open the island’s main international gateway Wednesday afternoon.
That opened an eagerly awaited window for some of the 120,000 tourists stranded after the surge in volcanic activity grounded hundreds of flights, sparking travel chaos and forcing the evacuation of villagers living in the mountain’s shadow.
Ash is dangerous for planes as it makes runways slippery and can be sucked into their engines.
“Things are gradually getting back to normal,” said Bali airport spokesman Israwadi, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.
But that wasn’t much comfort to some visitors who came to relax in one of the world’s top travel destinations but have instead faced repeated flight cancelations, battles over insurance and torrential rain that has lashed the island.
“I have been stranded since Monday night,” said Australian Donna Lay.
“We have travel insurance, but mine doesn’t cover volcano so I’m just living off my money. I’m covered for health (insurance) but not for accommodation.”
Indonesian visitor Yayan was running out of patience.
“I have been waiting since November 27 (Monday),” said the man, whose flight has been canceled multiple times.
“I got no email or notification from the airline...They should have told me. I am at loss because I have to postpone my business — I have jobs that I need to handle.”
More than 4,500 people have now flown out of Bali’s main airport, authorities said, with around 3,200 of them on international flights.
However, the airport on nearby Lombok island — also a popular tourist destination — closed again Thursday after ash and smoke drifted in its direction.
The shifting wind was being caused by cyclone Cempaka which is battering Indonesia’s main Java island — west of Bali — and has left at least 19 people dead in severe flooding and landslides.
Millions of tourists visit palm-fringed Bali annually. The majority 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-majority island.
Tens of thousands of Balinese have already fled their homes around the volcano — which last erupted in 1963, killing around 1,600 people.
As many as 100,000 will likely be forced to leave in case of a full eruption, disaster agency officials have said.
While some have refused to leave a 10-kilometer radius danger zone, tens of thousands have filled up evacuation centers, some with respiratory problems linked to the volcanic ash.
“In an evacuation center there are a lot of people so there are problems such as poor sanitation and diseases can be easily contagious,” said Dwi Putra Sudewa, a doctor volunteering at one center.
“One gets a cough and others can get it too.”
While the volcano appeared to be belching less ash and smoke on Thursday, experts warned a major eruption could still happen at any moment. Agung has already experienced a series of mini eruptions.
“The potential for an eruption is still there, but we cannot predict how big it’s going to be,” said Devy Kamil from the Indonesian volcanology agency.
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, on Saturday 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.


Nearly 6,000 Filipino Muslims to perform Hajj this year

Updated 53 min 8 sec ago
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Nearly 6,000 Filipino Muslims to perform Hajj this year

  • Each year, two to three million people who are able to undertake the journey descend on Islam’s holiest city to deepen their faith and cleanse themselves of their sins.
  • This year, 5,800 Muslims from the Philippines will make the trip, according to Omar Mandia, chief administrative officer at the Office of the Hajj Attache, National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF).

MANILA: On Sunday, Filipino Muslims will start their pilgrimage to Makkah in Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj — a pinnacle in every Muslim’s life.
Each year, two to three million people who are able to undertake the journey descend on Islam’s holiest city to deepen their faith and cleanse themselves of their sins.
This year, 5,800 Muslims from the Philippines will make the trip, according to Omar Mandia, chief administrative officer at the Office of the Hajj Attache, National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF).
Aside from the Filipino Muslims, some foreign diplomats will be among the delegates from the Philippines.
“There are diplomats who want to join us. They are requesting to be included. These are from the Libyan Embassy, UAE and Iran. They want to join us,” Mandia told Arab News.
“They can just arrange for their Hajj visa but they need to be accommodated in our housing and space in Mina and Arafat,” Mandia continued, as he explained that housing accommodation for pilgrims is done country-to-country, which means that the NCMF has to write a request to the Ministry of Hajj for additional slots to accommodate the diplomats.
In 2017, a total of 6,032 Filipino Muslims performed Hajj, but the number has fallen slightly this year.
“Last year, we had a bigger number of pilgrims from the Philippines, but we’ve reduced it... because of stringent visa requirements,” said Mandia.
An incident in 2016 when dozens of Indonesians were intercepted using Filipino Hajj passports en route to Makkah, prompted the authorities to introduce tight measures to ensure that no other nationalities join the Philippine contingent’s pilgrimage.
“That’s one reason why they’ve been very strict on securing the passports. They don’t want a repeat of that controversy. We are still bearing the consequence of that anomaly,” said Mandia. “We have assured them (Saudi authorities) that we have taken steps in order to prevent that from happening again,” he added.
Of the 5,800 Filipino Muslim pilgrims, the majority are from Cotabato and Lanao provinces, and include pilgrims from war-torn Marawi City.
Mandia, who will also be performing Hajj this year, added: “I’m from Marawi. Our house was destroyed during the siege. We are still not allowed to go back as it is a restricted site even today. They said there are still live bombs there you could step on and get killed.”
When he performs the pilgrimage he said that it would be “a sigh of relief after all those problematic days,” referring to the five-month battle in Marawi.
On average, a Filipino Muslim spends up to 200,000 pesos on Hajj. Some lawmakers sponsor Hajj for those who would not otherwise be able to afford to make the trip, especially those from Marawi City who suffered major devastation during the siege.
The first two batches of pilgrims are scheduled to leave on July 22 on a Saudi Airlines flight. The country’s flag carrier, Philippine Airlines (PAL), also has direct flights to take pilgrims from the Philippines to Madinah.
“Last year they (PAL) were not able to get landing permit, so we had to land in Kuwait and an airline in Kuwait flew them to Madinah. Now they have been able to secure a landing permit so they will be transporting pilgrims directly from Philippines to Madinah,” said Mandia.