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Volcano brings Europe to a halt

world Updated: Apr 15, 2010 23:54 IST

A volcanic eruption in Iceland fired ash across northern Europe forcing the closure of huge swathes of international airspace on Thursday which grounded hundreds of flights. For the first time since 9/11, Britain shut its airspace to movement. Denmark and parts of Ireland, Sweden and Norway followed suit.

The eruption of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in southeast Iceland had already melted part of a surrounded glacier causing severe floods. More than 700 people were evacuated from their homes.

A huge cloud of ash from the second major eruption in Iceland in less than a month blew eastwards across the Atlantic, closing major airports more than 1,700 km away.

Britain closed its airspace to all flights. Nearly every airport in Norway, Denmark and across northern Sweden also shut down, authorities announced. Belgium and the Netherlands also began progressively closing down their airspace. There was major disruption in Finland, France and Germany.

More than 300 flights out of London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports and others in Britain were cancelled, including transatlantic services.

British airport operator BAA said: “Following advice from the Met Office, the National Air Traffic Service has introduced restrictions to UK airspace this morning as a result of volcanic ash drifting across the United Kingdom from Iceland.”

Flights from all over the world, including Tokyo, Hong Kong, Dubai, Paris and Athens, were affected by the cancellations in northern Europe.

A spokeswoman for Britain’s air traffic control service told AFP the airspace closures could also cause European flights to the US to be re-routed.

“A lot of traffic from Western Europe to America would normally fly through our space,” she said.

The ash was about eight to 10 km in the air and could not been seen from the ground. But experts said it was a danger to jet engines and restricted visibility.