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Volcanic Eruption Closes 3 Indonesian Airports

Volcanic ash is seen during an eruption inside the crater of Mount Rinjani on the Indonesian island of Lombok Oct. 25, 2015 in this photo taken by Antara Foto.

Thousands of tourists are stranded on three Indonesian islands after ash from the Mount Rinjani volcano forced the closure of airports and blanketed villages and farmlands.

Mount Rinjani on Lombok Island blasted ash and debris 3,500 meters (11,480 feet) into the air on Wednesday, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman.

The eruption shut down flights at the Ngurah Rai international airport in Bali, about 135 kilometers (84 miles) from Lombok, and the Selaparang airport in Mataram, the capital of West Nusatenggara province, located on Lombok Island.

Later Wednesday, the Blimbingsari airport in Banyuwangi on the eastern end of main Java Island also was closed, the Ministry of Transportation said.

The closure of the airports affected a total of 692 international and domestic flights, which were either canceled or delayed from Tuesday to Thursday, the ministry said.

Airlines were told to avoid routes near the mountain and a decision about reopening the two airports would be made early Thursday, said ministry spokesman Julius Barata.

At Bali's airport, many travelers complained about a lack of information about their delayed flights and some were sleeping on benches inside terminals.

Farms and trees around the 3,726-meter (12,224-feet) -high volcano were covered in thick gray ash, but nearby towns and villages were not in danger, Nugroho said.

Rinjani is among about 130 active volcanoes in Indonesia. The archipelago is prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes because of its location on the Pacific "Ring of Fire,'' a series of fault lines stretching from the Western Hemisphere through Japan and Southeast Asia.