Tens of thousands of airline passengers are stranded and at least 11 nations have closed their airspace after an eruption from an Icelandic volcano created a high-altitude cloud of drifting as. The volcanic ash plume contains tiny particles of silicate and pulverized rock that can damage airframes and jet engines. The travel chaos is the worst since September 11, 2001, experts say.
"About 17,000 flights were expected to be canceled on Friday because of the dangers posed by volcanic ash from Iceland, aviation officials said. Airports in Britain, France, Germany, and across Europe were closed until at least Saturday. Vulcanologists say the ash could cause problems to air traffic for up to six months if the eruption continues. The British Meteorological Office showed the cloud drifting south and west over Europe. Eurocontrol warned problems would continue for at least another 24 hours and an aviation expert at the World Meteorological Organization said it was impossible to say when flights would resume. Said a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority, Britain's aviation regulator, 'In terms of closure of airspace, this is worse than after 9/11. The disruption is probably larger than anything we've probably seen.'"
The flight cancellations cost carriers such as British Airways and Lufthansa about $16 million a day.
Aviation officials said airspace was closed in countries across northern European from Britain and France to Slovakia and Poland. The disruption might force a delay in Sunday's funeral for the late Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife who were killed in a plane crash last Saturday. President Obama is scheduled to attend the funeral.
The volcano below the Eyjafjallajokull (pron. EYE-a-fyat-la-jo-kutl) glacier began erupting on Wednesday. The eruption spewed a plume of ash 6 to 11 km (4 to 7 miles) into the atmosphere. Hundreds of rural Icelanders have been evacuated after floods of glacial water and volcanic ash devastated the countryside.
The situation on the ground is "desolate", reports NYT:
"Sigurlaug Sigurdardottir, a farmer from Herjolfsstadir, told the mbl.is news site that the ash had turned a bright day so dark that it was impossible to see a nearby houseAnother farmer, Ingunn Magnusdottir, described a desolate scene, saying: 'There is gray dust covering everything. The cars are gray.' She said that her animals were all being kept in barns but that livestock at other farms had to be evacuated to safer areas. A thick layer of gray to black ash — which residents described as fine, like flour or sugar — covered thousands of hectares of land. The authorities were monitoring drinking water in islands that draw their water from Eyjafjallajokull glacier melt, Iceland Review’s Web site reported."
The latest eruption is the fourth by Eyjafjallajokull in 1,100 years, vulcanologists say.
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