Indonesia volcano wanes but some flights cancelled

Boys look at the eruption of Mount Merapi volcano in Manisrenggo village, in the Klaten district of Indonesia's central Java province November 10, 2010. REUTERS/Andry Prasetyo

JAKARTA (Reuters) - The threat from a deadly volcano that hastened the departure of U.S. President Barack Obama from Indonesia on Wednesday would not be downgraded as it is still rumbling, authorities said.

Mount Merapi, in the heart of densely populated Java island, begun spewing lava and hot clouds and volcanic gas more than two weeks ago, killing 151 people and forcing 320,000 people to abandon their homes.

“Although the eruptions are less frequent, that doesn’t mean that the activities have slowed, so we are keeping the status at the highest alert,” said Surono, the head of the country’s vulcanology agency.

Obama cut short by a few hours a visit to Indonesia on Wednesday because of fears that clouds of volcanic ash belched out by Mount Merapi, about 600 km (375 miles) from the capital, Jakarta, could interfere with the flight of Air Force One and leave him stranded ahead of a G20 summit in South Korea.

International carriers Cathay Pacific, ValueAir and Qantas canceled flights to Jakarta’s Sukarno-Hatta airport on Wednesday, said airport spokesman Andang Santoso.

Officials said volcanic activity had dissipated, but intense tremors were still being detected, forcing authorities to maintain a high alert status and a 20 km (12 miles) exclusion zone from the summit.