Air travel to Indonesia back on track |

Air travel to Indonesia back on track

Associated Press

MOUNT MERAPI, Indonesia (AP) – Indonesia’s deadly volcano spit out towering clouds of ash but with clear skies over the capital – hundreds of miles (kilometers) to the west – international airlines resumed flights Thursday.

The official death toll from Mount Merapi, meanwhile, was revised upward this week to 194 as authorities included those who died from respiratory problems, heart attacks and other illnesses

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 kilometers) 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 canceled flights to Jakarta Wednesday over concerns about volcanic ash being carried by westerly winds.

On Thursday, ash spreading over western Java was falling just short of the capital, said Gordon Jackson, a meteorologist with the Volcanic Ash Advisory Center in Darwin, Australia.

“Right now, all flights are operating normally,” said Frans Yosef, the manager at Jakarta’s main international airport.

Even so, the U.S. State Department urged travelers to stay clear of Mount Merapi, which has erupted many times in the last century, killing more than 1,400.

The National Disaster Management Agency said Thursday the death toll since the first eruption on Oct. 26 had climbed to 194 – three quarters from searing heat blasts during the biggest eruptions.

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.