Thousands of flights were cancelled Thursday after a cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland blanketed northern Europe, forcing airports to close. Europe's air traffic control agency said planes would be grounded for the next 48 hours.
AFP - A huge cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano covered northern Europe on Thursday, grounding thousands of flights as countries imposed the biggest airspace closure since the September 11 attacks.
Fallout from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in southeast Iceland could take several days to clear, experts warned, after the eruption had already melted the 250 metre (820 feet) thick glacier around it, causing severe floods.
Without thousands stranded in airports around the world, Eurocontrol, the European air traffic control group, said planes would stay grounded for at least 48 hours.
It estimated between 4,000 and 5,000 flights were affected on Thursday as grey ash from the second major eruption in Iceland in less than a month blew across the Atlantic, closing major airports more than 1,000 miles (1,700 kilometres) away.
Belgium, Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden all shut down their airspace because the ash was a threat to jet engines and visibility. There was also major disruption in Finland, France, Germany and Spain.
Norwegian Transport Minister Magnhild Meltveit Kleppa said the "airspace will be closed tomorrow (Friday) too, and the outlook for the next two-three days is not good".
Hundreds of flights out of London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports were cancelled, including transatlantic services. Scandinavian airline SAS said it had cancelled 635 flights alone.
Flights heading for Europe were stacked up all around the world. Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was stranded in New York, the NTB news agency reported.
British Airways said it would run no flights in or out of Britain until at least Friday morning. Amsterdam's Schiphol airport prepared beds and meals for stranded travellers.
"The cloud of volcanic ash is now spread across the UK and continuing to travel south," said the National Air Traffic Services, which manages British airspace.
"In line with international civil aviation policy, no flights other than agreed emergencies are currently permitted in UK controlled airspace," it said, grounding all non-emergency flights until 0600 GMT Friday.
The ash drifted at an altitude of about 5.0-6.0 miles (8.0-10 kilometers) and could not been seen from the ground. But experts said it posed a major threat to air traffic.
In the past 20 years, there have been 80 recorded encounters between aircraft and volcanic clouds, causing the near-loss of two Boeing 747s with almost 500 people on board and damage to 20 other planes, experts said.
The prevailing winds meant that Icelandic airports remained open.
"Flights to and from Iceland are still OK. The wind is blowing the ash to the east," Hjordis Gudmundsdottir of the Icelandic Airport Authority told AFP.
The volcano on the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in southern Iceland erupted just after midnight on Wednesday.
Smoke from the top crater stacked more than 20,000 feet (6,000 metres) into the sky, meteorologists said. A 500-metre fissure appeared at the top of the crater on Wednesday, Iceland's RUV broadcaster said.
The heat melted the surrounding glacier, causing major flooding which forced the evacuation of between 700 and 800 people to Red Cross centres.
"We have two heavy floods coming out from the melting of the Eyjafjallajokull glacier," police spokesman Roegnvaldur Olafsson told AFP.
The eruption -- in a remote area about 125 kilometres (75 miles) east of Reykjavik -- was bigger than the blast at the nearby Fimmvorduhals volcano last month.
"It is very variable how long these eruptions last. Anywhere from a few days to over a year," Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson, a professor of geophysics and civil protection advisor in Iceland, told AFP.
"Judging from the intensity of this one, it could last a long time."
"There were more than 250 metres (820 feet) of thick ice on top of the crater. That quickly melted, causing massive flooding which caused some damage yesterday," Gudmundsson added.
Olafur Eggertsson, a farmer, told how his family had to abandon their livestock when they fled their property, which lies in the path of one of two large floods of melt water coming from the glacier.
"We heard a lot of noise and saw mud and soil suddenly rushing down from the mountain. Just 30 minutes later we had mud and soil and a giant flood running into our dyke above the farm," Eggertsson told AFP.
"We have 200 animals on our farm: cows and sheep who are all inside now. It takes some time for the dykes to be destroyed and I don't know yet if they are in danger, but we are extremely worried," he said.
Last month, the first volcano eruption at the Eyjafjallajokull glacier since 1823 -- and Iceland's first since 2004 -- briefly forced 600 people from their homes in the same area.
That eruption at the Fimmvorduhals volcano, which gushed lava for weeks, ended Tuesday, experts said.
Date created : 2010-04-15