Volcano ash clouds force Australia flight cancellations

As Elaine Jung reports, the cloud of ash prompted flight cancellations although there are hopes it could now disperse

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Huge ash clouds thrown up by an Indonesian volcano have forced airlines to cancel flights to and from the northern Australian city of Darwin.

Mount Sangeang Api began erupting on Friday and plumes of ash have been sweeping south towards Australia.

Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia all cancelled flights. Services to Bali were also hit.

Fears other airports could be affected have been allayed by reports the cloud could be dispersing.

'Rather significant'

Hundreds of passengers have been caught out.

"The volcano is undergoing a sustained, rather significant eruption at the moment," Emile Jansons, manager of the Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre told Reuters news agency.

Map of Darwin and other areas affected by ash cloud in Australia and Indonesia

"For the last 10 hours we've been observing large masses of volcanic ash being generated."

Some flights between Perth and Bali were cancelled on Saturday.

Volcanic ash can be extremely dangerous to aircraft as the fine particles can damage engines.

Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss had warned it could take days for Australian services to return to normal.

But some flights were now expected into Darwin on Sunday afternoon.

The island of Sangeang Api has no permanent residents after they vacated following an eruption in 1988. Farmers nearby have reportedly been told to leave the area.

Indonesia lies across a series of geological fault-lines and is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

There are about 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia.

Tens of thousands of people fled their homes and several people were killed after a volcano erupted in east Java in February.

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