Chile volcano continues to disrupt air travel

Puyehue eruption forces flights to be suspended in Argentina, Uruguay and Australia.

    A huge ash cloud from a Chilean volcano continues to wreak havoc on international air travel, forcing passengers on two continents - including the head of the United Nations - to ditch stranded aircraft for travel by boat or overland.

    The eruption of the Puyehue volcano in southern Chile's Andes Mountains is now in its second week, disrupting air travel on a scale unseen since the volcanic cloud over Iceland paralysed Europe in 2010.
    Flights were again suspended in Argentina, Uruguay and - half a world away - in Australia.

    Al Jazeera's Lucia Newman, reporting from Buenos Aires. says that the ash blanket is also threatening livestock with starvation while travellers’ fate literally depends on the way the wind blows.

    UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who was seeking support for his bid to be re-elected to another five-year term, had to take a boat to Uruguay on Tuesday, a day after being forced to take an overnight bus across Argentina.

    He had been forced to land in the Argentine city of Cordoba on Monday after flying in from Bogota, and travel 645km to the Argentine capital by bus on the day he celebrated his 67th birthday.

    The eruption also meant Peru's president-elect, Ollanta Humala, had to travel by sea from Montevideo for a meeting on Monday with Argentine President Cristina Kirchner. 

    Regional lockdown

    Uruguay, which lies across a river from Buenos Aires, resumed some flights on Tuesday in expectation of improved conditions, though one airport official, Laura Vanoli, said: "The situation hasn't changed very much".

    She added that Uruguay's Carrasco international airport, which remained closed, "is still reporting visibility reduced by volcanic ash".

    Buenos Aires airports have suspended domestic and international flights for several days now, and Chile's meteorological service said prevailing winds would continue to blow the ash into Argentina through Wednesday.

      Craig Mauro reports on the effect of the volcano

    With flight disruptions also in Australia, it marks the first time in 20 years that an ash cloud from an erupting South American volcano has travelled halfway across the globe, volcanologists said.

    Qantas and Jetstar airlines lifted a ban on flights to and from Melbourne, lying some 11,200 km across the Pacific from the Chilean capital, Santiago.

    But services by the two airlines in and out of the southern island of Tasmania as well as Adelaide in New Zealand were cancelled for the day.

    The world of football also felt the effects of the eruption. The Copa America schedule could be altered if the ash cloud keeps grounding flights in the region, the Argentine Football Association president Julio Grondona said Tuesday.

    The tournament is due to open on July 1 in La Plata, Argentina, with the host facing Bolivia. The event ends with the final July 24 in Buenos Aires. 

    CONMEBOL, the governing body of South American football, said Monday it would consider having teams fly to Asuncion, Paraguay, and then travel by land to venues in Argentina.

    No predictions

    Chilean seismologist Enrique Valdivieso says the eruption could run its course within a week, but it was hard to know based on precedent. An eruption in 1960 lasted two weeks, but an earlier one in 1921 lasted two months.

    The June 4 eruption has been hardest for tourist areas near the volcano like the alpine resort of Bariloche, whose airport has been closed for a week, and Villa Angostura, which is 30 km away.

    The eruption in 2010 of an Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjoell, caused the biggest aerial shutdown in Europe since World War II, affecting more than 100,000 flights and eight million passengers.

    Puyehue's eruption sent columns of debris 10,000m high, blanketing the picturesque mountains and lakes along the Chile-Argentina border in a snowy white ash and prompting the evacuation of 3,500 people.

    Its last major eruption was in 1960, following a 9.5 magnitude earthquake - the largest on record.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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