Flights resume to Indonesia after volcano chaos

Eruption of Mount Merapi forced airlines to cancel 44 flights during weekend.

Jakarta: International flights to Indonesia`s capital Jakarta returned to normal on Monday, officials said, a day ahead of a visit by US President Barack Obama, after volcanic ash caused a weekend of travel chaos.

The eruption of Mount Merapi forced airlines to cancel eight flights on Sunday and 36 flights on Saturday, but officials said there would be no repeat of events in Iceland this year when a volcano disrupted transport across Europe.

"Everything has returned to normal today," Air Transport`s director general Herry Bakti said, referring to flights in and out of Soekarno Hatta international airport in Jakarta.

Obama is scheduled to arrive in Jakarta on Tuesday for a highly anticipated -- and twice delayed -- visit and US embassy spokesman Paul Belmont said the trip "will go ahead as planned".

Merapi lies 430 kilometres (270 miles) east of Jakarta but only 26 kilometres north of Yogyakarta, the historic capital of Central Java province, where the airport was closed for a fourth day on Monday.

The toll from a series of volcanic eruptions since October 26 rose to 135 on Sunday as bodies were pulled from the volcanic sludge that incinerated villages on Friday, Merapi`s biggest eruption since the 1870s.

Friday`s blow-out killed at least 91 people and destroyed villages up to 18 kilometres (12 miles) away.

Government vulcanologist Surono said gas and ash soared four kilometres into the air on Monday as the volcano, a sacred landmark in Javanese tradition, continued to heave and rumble.

"Merapi hasn`t stopped erupting since November 03. It`s been fluctuating but tends to be in the high intensity range," he said.

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.

The authorities are also dealing with the aftermath of a tsunami which smashed into villages on the remote Mentawai island chain on October 25, killing over 400 people.

Bureau Report