Page last updated at 18:10 GMT, Monday, 19 April 2010 19:10 UK

Volcanic ash: Correspondent reports

BBC correspondents report on how the continuing eruption of a volcano in Iceland is affecting countries around the world.


The cloud of ash spewing out of the volcano has - according to scientists here - dropped in height and is now drifting below 4,000m.

The Eyjafjallajoekull volcano billowing smoke and ash. Photo: 17 April 2010
Some families are staying put to look after their farms

But while the ash in the atmosphere may be decreasing the amount falling on the small rural community downwind of the eruption is still considerable.

There is a thick layer of ash already lying, and the volcanic cloud has closed in again making conditions very difficult.

Anna Birna has a farm in the area and says that when the dust storm hits, "day turns into night".

Her family have been wearing masks and linking hands when walking from their home to the farmyard buildings. Their priorities are to make sure no-one becomes separated in the dark swirling cloud, and to ensure their animals are safe.

Many people have now left the area. Those that remain are calm.

Rescue teams from Iceland's civil defence department are making regular trips into the affected zone to ensure everyone is coping.

The vehicles they use for the journey are impressive. They look like armoured personnel carriers with toughened glass windows and, no doubt, engines protected from the abrasive dust and ash.

Most of Iceland, however, remains unaffected by the fallout. With earthquakes and eruptions a constant feature of the country's history one man pointed out: "What can you do, this is Iceland. It's just nature and you don't think about it."


More than 600 British holidaymakers are spending their fifth day camping out at Sharm el-Sheikh's airport.

They are mainly passengers with low-cost airlines such as Easyjet, Monarch and Jet 2.

Staff are reported to be providing lilos for people to sleep on.

In all, there are estimated to be 18,000 British tourists currently in the Red Sea resort.

It was fun at first, having a few extra days of holiday, but it's become very frustrating because I just want to get back to normal life. The kids want to go back to school
Siobhan Harris, Oxfordshire

The holiday firm, First Choice, has around 10,000 people staying here - the equivalent of 37 of the 41 flights a week they run to Sharm el-Sheikh. Most of them should be back in the UK.

In one hotel, the Coral Sea Resort, in Nabq to the east of Naama Bay, most guests are staying in their rooms for the time being, although some are being moved to other hotels.

There is an air of resignation. Life is on hold. People cluster together, sharing the few facts they gather from phone calls home or the internet. Planes are continuing to take off above their sun beds - most headed, it seems, for Russia.

There is plenty of conjecture and devising of elaborate means to get home: coach to Cairo; ferry to Greece or Italy; bus or train back to the UK. Another option: a flight to Spain and then ferry or train back to Britain.

Siobhan Harris, from Oxfordshire, was due to fly home on Friday with her family.

"It was fun at first, having a few extra days of holiday, but it's become very frustrating because I just want to get back to normal life. The kids want to go back to school," she says.

"Why have the EU countries only got round to having a meeting now after five days when we all knew from the start that the situation was serious?"

Jonathan O'Brien is the director of an international business consultancy based in Plymouth. He says the impact of the disruption could be "catastrophic".

"Our business relies on us being able to fly people to different parts of the world. If we can't do that, we don't get paid.

"This week is a write-off and next week looks like it could go the same way. This has already cost us tens of thousands of pounds.

"The worst issue is that we don't know when this is going to end. If it goes on for a long time, it could be catastrophic. There's only so much you can do from the pool," Mr O'Brien says.


For stranded passengers the flight ban is a major inconvenience.

Kenyan roses. File photo
There are fears that a vast amount of produce will be simply thrown away

But in Kenya a key industry is facing a crisis. Workers have been sent home as the harvesting of fresh flowers and vegetables cannot continue.

The stores at hundreds of farms and at Nairobi's airport are now completely full and unless the flights resume before Tuesday a vast amount of produce will be thrown away.

Officials say so far the flight ban has prevented the export of some 3,000 tonnes worth about $9m (£5.9m).

Horticulture recently became Kenya's greatest export earner and accounts for roughly 20% of the economy.

Exporting roses and getting beans, peas and other vegetables onto the shelves of European supermarkets is an impressive operation which provides work for hundreds of thousands of Kenyans.

They desperately need the skies over Europe to re-open.


The concerns about the plume of ash from the Icelandic volcano have raised questions in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

An active volcano here has spewed huge clouds of smoke almost continuously in recent years near the large trading city of Goma - and its busy international airport.

If Europe is so worried about the dangers to aircraft from volcanic ash, some Congolese are asking, what dangers do we face?

Mount Nyiragongo
Mount Nyiragongo's eruption is an arresting sight

But scientists in Goma - on the border with Rwanda to the east - say the Congolese volcano usually generates a different sort of smoke.

Viewed from the city, Mount Nyiragongo is an arresting sight.

By day, smoke billows from the top; by night the summit is a ring of fire.

In 2002, Mount Nyiragongo erupted violently, covering much of Goma and its airport with rivers of lava and making tens of thousands of people homeless.

In January this year, nearby Mount Nyamulagira also erupted.

But if these volcanoes are potentially fatal to people living in and around Goma, they are less dangerous to aircraft.

"The crucial difference is that the Icelandic volcano is mixing volcanic lava with ice," said Dario Tedesco, a vulcanologist working for the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) in Goma.

"This causes explosions which send ash high into the sky to typical aircraft cruising height.

"The smoke from the two Congolese volcanoes doesn't tend to rise high enough to worry pilots - and the prevailing east-west winds in the area usually blow the debris away from Goma and its airport."

The vulcanologist stressed, however, that if the Congolese volcanoes were to develop fissures and erupt on the nearby shores of Lake Kivu, the resulting mixture of lava and water could cause problems similar to those currently facing Europe.

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