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A powerful volcanic eruption beneath the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland spewed a 3.7-mile-high plume of ash into the air and rapidly melted glacial ice. The volcano caused massive flooding as well as costly air traffic delays in Europe similar to those following the September 11 terrorist attacks.
France closed its five major airports among others, and most Nordic countries experienced an immense number of flight cancellations and disruptions. Britain and Ireland shut down their airspace for all non-emergency flights. In addition, the eruption has affected tens of thousands of passengers worldwide.
“It is likely that the production of ash will continue at a comparable level for some days or weeks. But where it disrupts travel, that depends on the weather,” Icelandic Meteorological Office geophysicist Einar Kjartansson told The Associated Press. “It depends how the wind carries the ash.”
An Association of British Travel Agents spokeswoman estimated airport disruptions will affect approximately 200,000 Britons per day.
“It’s too early to say how much this will cost the UK travel industry but it doesn’t take much of this type of disruption for the cost to run up to several millions of pounds per day, given the need for refunds and related costs,” she said (Reuters).
In southeastern Iceland, rivers have risen by 10 feet and flooding has severed the main road that rings the island nation. Hundreds of residents have fled and farmers have been advised to keep livestock indoors so that they do not inhale the deadly ash.
Scientists fear the recent activity could trigger a more powerful eruption under a deep glacier at a nearby geological hotspot, Mount Katla, which has seen three previous eruptions due to events such as this.
“Eyjafjallajokull hardly makes a move without Mount Katla wanting to get in on the action,” University of Iceland geophysicist Pall Einarsson told Reuters. “It is therefore of utmost importance to watch events carefully.”