Jakarta Flights Grounded

Airlines cancelled 36 flights to and from Jakarta on Saturday, affecting international carriers from Europe to Asia, because of ash from the Mount Merapi volcano, an airport spokesman said.


In echoes of the disruption when thousands of flights were cancelled in April this year after ash spewed from a volcano in Iceland, several major international carriers were hit in their Indonesian operations.


“Thirty-six flights to and from Jakarta from 11 airlines have been cancelled today. I think it’s for safety reasons due to the volcanic ash from Merapi,” said Sudaryanto, a spokesman for Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.


“Safety is good, but actually the ash hasn’t reached Jakarta,” he added.


He listed the airlines that cancelled their flights as Singapore Airlines, AirAsia, Emirates, Malaysia Airlines, JAL, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, China Airlines, Korean Air, Tiger Air and the local airline Mandala.


Separately, Cathay Pacific said on its website that flights to and from the Indonesian capital had been delayed and would depart on Sunday, “if conditions improve”.


Mount Merapi, on Central Java, first started erupting on October 26, a day after a tsunami killed more than 400 people in a remote area off Sumatra island.


The volcano, which is 430 kilometres (267 miles) from Jakarta, has so far killed 128 people, but this is the first time international flights have been affected.


Singapore Airlines said that flights to and from the capital were “temporarily suspended” while Malaysia Airlines said flights were cancelled at least until Sunday.


“We will continue monitoring the situation, it depends whether the ash clouds still surround the region of Jakarta,” a Malaysia Airlines spokeswoman told AFP.


Flights to cities closer to Merapi — including Yogyakarta, Solo and Bandung — have also been affected.


US President Barack Obama is scheduled to arrive in Jakarta on November 9 for a highly anticipated visit. White House officials said Saturday there was no sign so far of any disruption to the schedule.


Rescuers picked through the rubble of destroyed homes Saturday as officials prepared for a mass burial of people killed by the latest violent eruption of Indonesia’s most active volcano, which continues to rumble.


Ash, deadly heat clouds and molten debris gushed from the mouth of Mount Merapi and shot high into the sky Friday, triggering chaos on the roads as people fled their homes.


The death toll from Friday’s eruption — its most violent in more than a century — stood at 85, with scores more suffering severe burns.


Many of the dead from Friday’s eruption were from Argomulyo village, 18 kilometres from the crater, according to emergency response officials and witnesses, with several children under the age of 10 killed.


Dozens from the village were to be buried in a mass grave in Yogyakarta, disaster management spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.


“We will bury them in a place where it’s safe. There’s no way we will have the burial in their village, as the village is within the 20-kilometre danger zone,” he said.


Rescuer Utha told AFP as he delivered 10 bodies to the hospital, “I found three bodies: a child, mother and father, still in their bed. They must have been sleeping when the hot ash struck their house.


“We also found a dead man with a phone still in his hand.”


Disaster management agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said: “The death toll has risen to 85 people and 289 people are injured.”


More than 166,000 people were evacuated after everyone living within the declared “danger zone” had been told to leave their homes immediately, though some were reluctant to abandon their livestock.


Kepuharjo village chief Heri Suprapto, who was evacuated 12 days ago with his wife and four of his children, said he was worried for the safety of people from his village.


“The people from my village are scattered in various temporary shelters. I cannot monitor them all the time,” he said.


“We are worried here in shelters. All we do is just wait for aid,” Suprapto said, adding it was hard to find suitable milk for his two-year old daughter.


Government volcanologist Surono said the volcano was hard to predict.


“The eruption from Merapi has not stopped since November 3, although its intensity has gone down and up again,” he said, adding there were no plans to expand the “danger zone”.


Merapi killed around 1,300 people in 1930 but experts say the current eruptions are its biggest convulsions since 1872.


A tsunami smashed into villages on the remote Mentawai island chain following a 7.7-magnitude earthquake off the coast on October 25, killing 428 people and leaving 15,000 homeless.


The Indonesian archipelago has dozens of active volcanoes and straddles major tectonic fault lines known as the “ring of fire” from the Indian to the Pacific oceans.