Air travel to Indonesia back on track

The US told citizens, however, to use caution when travelling in Indonesia.

Last Updated: Nov 11, 2010, 13:54 PM IST

Mount Merapi: Indonesia`s deadly volcano spit out towering clouds of ash but with clear skies over the capital — hundreds of miles (kilometres) to the west — international airlines resumed flights on Thursday.

The US told citizens, however, to use caution when travelling in the archipelagic nation as the official death toll from Mount Merapi soared this week to 191 as authorities counted additional deaths due to illnesses linked to the fiery mountain.

The notoriously unpredictable mountain, located in the heart of Java island, roared back to life two weeks ago, spewing searing clouds of gray soot and debris up to four miles (six kilometres) into the air almost daily, with lava and rock cascading down its slopes.

More than 350,000 people have been evacuated to cramped emergency shelters.

President Barack Obama, now in South Korea for the Group of 20 summit, sliced several hours off his whirlwind tour to Indonesia and several international airlines cancelled flights to Jakarta on Wednesday over concerns about volcanic ash being carried by westerly winds.

"Today everything`s returned to normal," said Frans Yosef, the manager at Jakarta`s main international airport. "Skies are clear and, as far as we know, all flights are operating."

Even so, the US State Department urged travellers to stay clear of Mount Merapi.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago of 235 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanoes because it sits along the Pacific "Ring of Fire”, a horseshoe-shaped string of faults that lines the Pacific Ocean.

Merapi has erupted many times in the last century, killing more than 1,400.

Muhammad Anshori, a disaster official, said on Wednesday the death toll since the first eruption on October 26 had climbed to 191 — a jump of more than 40.

He said earlier figures had not included people who died of respiratory problems, heart attacks and other illnesses linked to the fiery mountain.

Bureau Report