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Volcanic ash cloud won’t give Europe a break

The cloud of volcanic ash hovering over northern Europe showed no sign of abating Saturday, keeping thousands of travelers stranded across the continent for a third day.

British airspace remained almost entirely closed. Aviation officials said no flights would be allowed until at least 7 a.m. Sunday, although stray clear patches in the skies might allow for a few flights Saturday afternoon in Scotland, Northern Ireland and northern England. By Saturday evening, the cloud is forecast to cover all of Britain once again.

In Germany and northern France, including Paris, authorities also grounded all planes through the end of Saturday.

Copenhagen Airport remained shut down. So were most major airports in Sweden, where the website of Arlanda Airport, Stockholm’s biggest, warned: “The forecast is that the airspace will remain closed on Sunday as well, but the forecast is now even more uncertain than before.”

News agencies also reported further closures of airports in central and eastern Europe as winds blow the pall of grit and dust across the continent.

The continuing travel disruptions mean further loss of trade and tourism for Europe as it struggles to emerge from recession. The airline industry alone is losing as much as $200 million a day, according to the International Air Transport Assn.

Airlines in Asia, Australia and the Americas canceled flights to and through parts of Europe on Saturday. With the pileup of marooned passengers growing by the hour, analysts say that clearing out the backlog and getting the system back to normal could take days once the ash cloud dissipates.

And no one was predicting when that would happen either.

“It’s still erupting,” Armann Hoskuldsson, a scientist at the University of Iceland, said of the Eyjafjallajokull volcano whose massive load of ash and glass particles is the source of Europe’s air-travel woes. “It’s more or less constant.”

The eruptions were “fairly stable” Saturday, compared to the volcano’s irregular activity Friday, Hoskuldsson said. Grit was being thrown up to three miles in the air.

A team of volcanologists from the university was hoping to fly over Eyjafjallajokull on Saturday to glean more information on how much longer the volcano might continue spewing ash, but the expedition had to be called off, the Associated Press reported.


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