UPDATE 1 – Eruption at Bali’s Mount Agung becomes magmatic, airports closed

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The eruption at Mount Agung on the Indonesian island of Bali has become magmatic, the country’s disaster management agency said on early Monday, warning that a larger eruption could be imminent. The island’s main airport has been closed.

A statement from Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) said the eruption, which began on Saturday afternoon, had changed overnight from a phreatic eruption – in which water is heated by magma – to a magmatic eruption.

The agency said explosive eruptions were observed on early Monday morning and the plume of ash and steam is now reaching up to 3,400 meters (11,150 feet) above the crater. “This indicates the possibility that a larger eruption is imminent,” the statement said.

As a result, the alert status for the surrounding area has been raised to level 4, the highest level. People living in a radius of 8 to 10 kilometers (5 to 6.2 miles) have been urged to evacuate immediately in a calm and orderly manner. Thousands of people have already fled their homes.

Ngurah Rai International Airport, which is also known as Denpasar International Airport, was shut down at 7 a.m. on Monday and is expected to remain closed for at least 24 hours. Lombok International Airport, on the nearby island of Lombok, had already been closed as a result of Saturday’s eruption.

Aviation experts say volcanic ash can result in an aircraft losing its engines. In 1982 and 1989, two Boeing aircraft lost all of their engines after flying through a thick cloud of volcanic ash, although both planes were able to land safely.

The current activity began with a small eruption on Tuesday, which was followed by a larger eruption on Saturday afternoon that has continued to grow larger. It is the volcano’s first eruption in more than 50 years.

The region around Mount Agung has been on alert since late September when more than 140,000 people were told to evacuate over fears of an imminent eruption. No eruption took place and those evacuated were later allowed to return to their homes.

Indonesia has more active volcanoes than any other country in the world and sits on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, an arc of fault lines circling the Pacific Basin. Mount Agung last erupted in 1963, killing nearly 1,600 people in one of Indonesia’s most devastating eruptions.

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