Volcano creates ash, chaos

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International airlines cancelled dozens of flights to Indonesia on Sunday as Mount Merapi volcano spewed ash high into the sky, ahead of a visit by United States President Barack Obama.

A search and rescue team carries the body of a victim of the Mount Merapi volcano eruption at Wukirsari village in Indonesia's Central Java Province on Sunday.

A search and rescue team carries the body of a victim of the Mount Merapi volcano eruption at Wukirsari village in Indonesia's Central Java Province on Sunday. 

Airlines cancelled 50 flights on Sunday and 36 flights on Saturday, in an echo of events in Iceland earlier this year when volcanic ash led to thousands of cancellations and transport chaos across Europe.

The death toll from a series of eruptions since Oct 26 is expected to climb as more bodies are pulled from the volcanic sludge that thundered down on central Java on Friday, the volcano's biggest eruption since the 1870s.

"Fifty flights to and from Jakarta from 15 airlines have been cancelled today for safety reasons, they are mostly flights which pass through Singapore," Soekarno-Hatta International Airport spokesman Sudaryanto said.

The airlines affected include Singapore Airlines, Air Asia, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Malaysia Airlines, Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa.

The spokesman said Jakarta airport, which handles around 900 flights per day, remained open.

The volcano also affected flights to Yogyakarta, Solo and Bandung, cities closer to Merapi in the centre of the main island of Java. Thousands of passengers have been left stranded.

"We called three airlines but we are told all the seats were fully booked," said Singaporean Raymond Yong, 34, whose Singapore-bound Lufthansa flight was cancelled from Jakarta due to the volcano eruption.

"I don't understand why the airlines have to cancel flights when there are other flights which are operating just fine. I have to work tomorrow and this is such a major inconvenience."

Three Malaysian Air Force Hercules C-130 transport aircraft flew to Yogyakarta to collect 664 Malaysians stranded there, in a series of flights to take place Saturday and Sunday.

President Obama is scheduled to arrive in Jakarta on Tuesday for a highly anticipated - and twice delayed - visit. White House officials said Saturday there was no sign so far of any disruption to the schedule.

Mount Merapi first started erupting on Oct 26 and a violent blow-out on Friday killed nearly 80 people, incinerating villages up to as far as 18 km away.

Pyroclastic flows or heat clouds of boiling hot gas and rock travelling hundreds of kilometres an hour killed people in their sleep, leaving smouldering ruins of bodies.


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