Tue, 05 Aug 2003

Ternate airport still closed

TERNATE, North Maluku: Sultan Baabulah Airport in North Maluku province remained closed to flights on Monday due to thick ash blanketing runway from Mount Gamalama, which erupted four days ago, officials said.

"The latest news from Sultan Baabulah Airport is that the ash from the volcano's eruption has not been cleaned up from the runway leading to a suspension of flights," said Chatrience Watung, sales and service manager at the Merpati Airlines' office in the North Sulawesi capital of Manado.

Speaking in Manado, she said the slow progress in cleaning the runway was due to a lack of equipment to remove the ash and other volcanic materials.

Merpati planes had to halt their services to and from the ash- blanketed airport in the North Maluku city of Ternate since July 31, Watung said.

The airport's closure had forced the private airline to cancel seven flights to and from Ternate so far, she added. It remained unclear when the airport would reopen as it could take two weeks to remove the volcanic material, airport officials said.

The 1,100-meter high Gamalama volcano erupted on Thursday, blanketing Ternate with think ash. No casualties or injuries were reported.

The volcano has since quietened down with only minor eruptions on Monday.

The Ternate government has evacuated thousands of villagers living in five villages in the foothills of the mountain as dust and ash fell as far as 30 kilometers away. --Antara