Flight disruptions in Europe get even worse

(AP) - Volcanic ash blanketed parts of rural Iceland on Friday and left a widening arc of grounded aircraft across Europe, as thousands of planes stayed on the tarmac to avoid the hazardous cloud.

Eurocontrol, the European air traffic agency, said the flightdisruptions that upended travel in Europe and reverberatedthroughout the world Thursday were even worse on Friday. Half adozen European nations have closed their airspaces, the cloud wasdrifting east, about 60 percent of European flights were notoperating and delays will continue into Saturday, it said.

"We expect around 11,000 flights to take place today inEuropean airspace. On a normal day, we would expect 28,000," saidKyla Evans, a spokeswoman for Eurocontrol. "The cloud of volcanicash is continuing to move east and southeast."

Ice chunks the size of houses tumbled down from a volcanobeneath Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull glacier Thursday, as hot gases melted the ice. The volcano began erupting Wednesday for the second time in less than a month.

The ash cloud, drifting between 20,000 to 30,000 feet (6,000 to9,000 meters) high and invisible from the ground, left tens ofthousands of travelers stranded around the globe and blocked themain air flight path between the U.S. east coast and Europe.

Trains and hotels in key European cities were packed as peoplescrambled to make alternate travel plans.

Fearing that microscopic particles of highly abrasive ash couldendanger passengers by causing aircraft engines to fail,authorities shut down air space over Britain, Ireland, France,Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Belgium. That halted flightsat Europe's two busiest airports - Heathrow in London and Charlesde Gaulle airport in Paris - as well as dozens of other airports,25 in France alone.

As the cloud moved east, flights were halted Friday at Frankfurtairport, Europe's third-busiest terminal, and at 10 other Germanairports including Duesseldorf, Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne. Noflights were allowed at the Ramstein Air Base, a key U.S. militaryhub in southwestern Germany.

No more than 120 trans-Atlantic flights reached Europeanairports Friday morning, compared to 300 on a normal day, saidEurocontrol's Evans. About 60 flights between Asia and Europe werecanceled Friday, stranding several thousand passengers.

WHO spokesman David Epstein says the agency doesn't know theexact health risks from the ash cloud. However, he said the ash ispotentially dangerous if it starts to "settle" on the earthbecause inhaling the particles can cause respiratory problems,especially for those suffering from asthma and respiratorydiseases.

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