Iceland eruption tatters travel, business, nerves.
The ash clouds from the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano in eastern Iceland, have caused the greatest blow to air traffic in Europe since the end of World War II. Estimating that 10,000 ticket-holding Swedish passengers were stranded outside the EU, airlines struggled to divert people through southernmost Europe, from which they took boats or low flights to the mainland and, from there, buses or trains to Scandinavia. At Swedish airports, thousands who wanted to leave were simply stuck. Of course, many hundreds of thousands of people, not to mention tons of air freight, found their flights canceled. Nothing from north of the Alps or from London to Moscow went up into the air. One report recounted that the Monty Python comedian, John Cleese, paid $5,100 for a taxi from Gothenburg to Brussels in order to appear at an engagement. Prior experiences with jet aircraft nearly crashing and consistently suffering damages have occurred in Washington (1980), Malaysia (1982), Alaska (1989), Philippines (1991) and Mexico (1998). Since 1982, the Volcanic Ash Warnings Study Group, provides information to flight crews about volcanic eruptions, and airlines cancel flights until the ash particles settle from their around the world, high and fast travels. Because the fine ash damages jet engines, clouds cockpit windows, clogs air and cooling systems and pollutes hydraulic and electrical systems, the entire northern Europe is now a "no fly" zone. The Swedish Aviation Agency (LFV) grounded all turbine drive aircraft, although a brief interlude in atmospheric ash in northernmost Sweden allowed for a precious few flights on Friday, but the ban was reinstated early Saturday. Appearing on the weather maps like giant swords that pierced into the massive ash clouds, narrow corridors of clear air passed across Scandinavia and, horizontally, into central Europe. These permitted intermittant arrivals and exits during the weekend. Daring against warnings, some airlines sent pilots up without passengers to test the air quality, and although the carriers were eager to get back into the skies and cut their enormous losses, it appeared by Sunday night that most of Europe would remain on the ground for at least another day. Meanwhile, the Iceland observers reported tremors and continued gushing of ash plumes into the atmosphere, although at lower elevations of only around 4 miles. But the wind had shifted to the south, and while Sweden may benefit, the ashes next week could spell closures for airports in Spain, Italy and Greece that had so far been spared from the volcanic ash menace. For Swedish residents at home on terra firma, sensations forewarned of the onslaught of Ragnarök, which in ancient pre-Viking mythology meant the end of the cosmos. Such thoughts must assuredly crossed the minds of airline executives who saw billions in losses mounting hourly. Throughout the continent, personnel layoffs were made at terminals, carriers, service companies and all that related to air travel. Ironically, at one Norwegian airport which was also shut down and nearly abandoned, a ground handlers union decided to continue with plans to strike although nobody was around to see their placards and their services were not needed anyway. Although not directly discernible outdoors, a distant haze dulled the blue hues even when skies were clear, and the sharp sunshine that had reddened noses two days previously no longer held its burning sting. By Friday, a noticeable abatement had struck the youthful street action of the normally fun loving weekend kickoff. Come Saturday, an unusual low attendance blanketed shops with lesser weekend consumers. Likewise absent was the piercing spring bird calls, joyous shrieks of children turning cartwheels in the playgrounds and, of course, the high rumble of jumbo jets. Then, after dusk, no revving motors, no screeching cartwheels around the towns told a story of people staying inside, whenever possible. All was caused by the volcanic ash from faraway in Iceland and mostly still miles above in the atmosphere. The situation's seriousness had penetrated into Swedish and European consciousness, and people were afraid. UN World Health Organization warnings of dangers of volcanic ash to everything from people to water supplies spread further apprehension that kept people under the perceived safety of their home roofs. A somber mood pervaded in normally jesting weatherman's news forecasts, and these were augmented with reports from weather agency experts that said no flights would leave the ground until the volcano ceased erupting. Worse, the long awaited summer weather would be somewhat cooler than expected. Although supplies of exotic foods and flowers that are flown from around the world dwindled, a more serious potential shortage lies in the availability of pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and transplant organs that come to Sweden by special air cargo. Icelandic volcano experts near the scene said that their experiences with previous Eyjafjallajökull eruptions made them guess that the ashes would spew out for at least another week. They were also first to mention that this was a relatively small Iceland volcano, and that many of its eruptions had been followed by activity in the nearby Katla, which has been active throughout history, although one needed to go back to the year 934 to find its last catastrophic eruption. Nobody could predict, certainly, if Katla would blow again, but worried experts cited modern day scientific equipment readings and said that if this volcano erupted, damages would far exceed those now being encountered by its neighboring inferno. The worst volcanic eruption known in Iceland was in 1783, when Laki threw some 14 cubic kilometers of dust into the air, killed 25% of Icelanders, caused poisonous gas deaths as far away as England and cooled the Northern Hemisphere temperature by three degrees. By comparison, Mt. St. Helens only ejected one cubic kilometer of ash.