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Flight disruption continues

INTERNATIONAL: A Chilean volcano spewing dangerous ash high into the sky, sowing air travel havoc from South America to Australia for the past week, could have even more intense eruptions in the days to come, government geologists warned.

Friday 17 June 2011, 02:08AM

Ash from Chilean volcano Puyehue is seen over Tasmania.

Ash from Chilean volcano Puyehue is seen over Tasmania.

“It is possible there will be a return to increased eruptive activity” of the Puyehue volcano in southern Chile’s Andes mountains, which started belching June 4, Chile’s National Geological and Mines Service said late on Tuesday.

It said it was detecting no let-up in the volcano’s emissions, which were towering eight kilometres (into the troposhpere. It maintained its alert level at “moderate eruption.”

That was bad news for airlines flying into or over Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, southern Brazil, and – half a world away – Australia.

Passengers in those regions have had to ditch aircraft for travel by boat or overland, or cancel plans entirely.

The chaos recalled the massive paralysis of air travel over Europe in 2010 when Icelandic volcano Eyjafjoell erupted.

Among the millions of passengers affected was UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who on Tuesday had to take a slow boat from Argentina to Uruguay as he pursued a Latin America tour to secure support for his bid for another five-year term.

From the Uruguayan capital Montevideo, Ban was scheduled to go on to the Brazilian capital Brasilia. But a UN official speaking in New York on condition of anonymity said: “At the moment, we have no idea how he will get there.”

On Monday, Ban’s plane from Colombia was forced to land in the Argentine city of Cordoba, and he had to travel the 645 kilometres to Buenos Aires by bus on the day he celebrated his 67th birthday.

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.

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

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

Chilean seismologist Enrique Valdivieso said the eruption could run its course within a week, but it was hard to know based on precedent. The volcano’s last major eruption in 1960 lasted two weeks, but an earlier one in 1921 lasted two months. – AFP

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