Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Merapi’s Ash Blows Airlines in Indonesia Off Course

Dessy Sagita, Candra Malik & AFP | November 03, 2010
Ash from Mount Merapi Ash from Mount Merapi's eruptions forced the cancellation of 6 international flights on Tuesday. (EPA Photo/Adi Weda)

Jakarta. Airlines on Tuesday were warned to avoid certain routes over Yogyakarta and Central Java after Mount Merapi continued to belch dangerous hot ash high into the air, forcing the cancellation of six international flights.

Bambang Ervan, a spokesman from the Transportation Ministry, said an official warning had been issued to all airlines to “use alternative routes for safety reasons due to the volcanic ash.”

Malaysia-based AirAsia said it had canceled four flights linking Kuala Lumpur with Yogyakarta and nearby Solo on Tuesday, while SilkAir, the regional carrier of Singapore Airlines, said took two flights between Singapore and Solo off the schedule.

“The flights … to Yogya and Solo have been canceled only for November 2,” an AirAsia spokeswoman said. “We will issue an update if there are any further developments.”

A statement from SilkAir on Tuesday confirmed flights between Singapore and Solo had been canceled.

Thirty-eight people have been killed since the 2,914-meter Merapi, the most active of the scores of volcanoes across the archipelago, began erupting last week.

Merapi spewed plumes of hot ash high into the air at least six times on Tuesday, with experts warning the eruptions could continue for weeks or even months.

Raden Sukhyar, chief of the geology department at the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources, told the Jakarta Globe that monitoring of the volcano had shown no signs of it letting up any time soon.

He said swirling winds were making the situation worse. “Sometimes it’s heading north, west or in another direction; we don’t know for sure when the airport will be affected,” he said.

Meanwhile, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered governors and district heads in Yogyakarta and Central Java to personally lead efforts to help the disaster victims.

“You should not only be present at the evacuation camps when I come to visit — that does not show good leadership,” he said during on a brief stopover in Semarang while on his way to Yogyakarta and Magelang, Central Java, to visit those displaced by the eruptions.

The president said local leaders should not be complacent about the scale of the disaster and should make every effort to take care of victims.

“We must keep working through to the end, until Mount Merapi calms down, until our citizens are returned to their homes,” he said, adding that villages damaged by the eruption should be rehabilitated and the volcanic ash that has blanketed the entire region cleaned up.

Yudhoyono also ordered provincial governments to install permanent signs to direct future evacuations and ensure that people did not live in the danger zone surrounding the volcano.

But Social Affairs Minister Salim Segaf Al Jufri said there were no plans to relocate residents from Merapi’s slopes, adding that local populations were considered to have understood the character of the volcano after living there for many years.

Aside from rebuilding houses, the government will also replace the livestock lost in the eruptions, as well as providing Rp 4 million ($450) in compensation to the families of those killed.

Yudhoyono on Tuesday night visited the Tunjung shelter in Magelang accompanied by senior officials.

He is scheduled to visit Yogyakarta on Wednesday.

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