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Iceland volcano causes flight chaos

A dark cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland starting to spread over other countries  [AFP/METEOSAT]Hundreds of flights from European airports have been cancelled because of a cloud of ash thrown up by the eruption of a volcano in Iceland.

All air traffic in and out of Norway was suspended on Thursday and British air space is due to be closed to all commercial and private aircraft.

A volcano under Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier erupted for the second time in less than a month on Wednesday, sending plumes of black ash and white steam into the air.

Heathrow airport, Europe's busiest, was among the British airports that were to be shut down from 11:00 GMT for at least six hours, according to authorities.

A spokeswoman for the British airport operator BAA said the decision was being made "due to airspace restrictions, in accordance with international regulations."

Airport chaos

Flights in northern Sweden were also cancelled because of the risks posed by volcanic ash, which reduces visibility and can damage aircraft engines.

Some flights in France and northern Finland have also been disrupted, while Denmark said its entire airspace would close from 16:00 GMT.

"We are not the masters of the situation," Bo Pedersen, a Danish civil aviation authority spokesman told the AFP news agency.

"If the wind continues to blow in the direction of Denmark, which is currently the case, we will have to stop all traffic," he said.

Leslie Tangen, a reporter for Norway's TV2 channel at Oslo airport, said passengers had been left distraught at the cancellations.

"Some people have left the airport crying. They don't know what to do because they can't reach their destinations," he said.

"Tens of thousands of people are going to have problems because of this today."

Iceland evacuation

However Icelandic airports have remained open, with winds blowing ash away from the island.

"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.

"It's amazing really," she said. "Things here should be fine for the next 12 hours at least, and we think probably all day, judging from the weather forecast."

On Wednesday between 700 and 800 people were evacuated from their homes in the remote, lightly populated area 125 km east of the capital, Reykjavik, as the volcano melted a glacier, causing massive flooding.

An Icelandic geophysicist said that the volcanic eruption could last "a long time".

"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 adviser, told AFP.

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.


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