From: Eduardo Garcia, Retuers, BUENOS AIRES
Published June 14, 2011 06:32 AM

Ash from Chile's Puyehue volcano eruption disrupting air travel

A cloud of ash spewing from a Chilean volcano caused chaos for air travelers in South America again on Monday and grounded flights as far away as New Zealand and Australia, stranding thousands of passengers.


Two airports serving Argentina's capital and the main international airport in Uruguay were closed late on Sunday over safety fears sparked by the ash cloud, which has stretched some 10,000 kilometers (6,000 miles).

"All flights have been canceled ... according to the weather forecast, the ash will continue affecting (flights) for the rest of the day," said Nelson Rosano, head of operations at Uruguay's Carrasco airport.

A volcano in Chile's Puyehue-Cordon Caulle chain erupted 10 days ago, belching ash eastward and forcing the cancellation of hundreds of local and international flights.

The chaos hit airlines including Chile's LAN and Brazil's TAM and Gol, which halted services to and from Buenos Aires.

Despite the disruption, airports reported little turmoil, as most affected passengers found out about the flight cancellations before heading to the airport.

In Argentina's southern Patagonia region, the volcanic ash closed roads and schools, blanketed a ski resort and turned an Andean lake a deep charcoal gray color.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, in Argentina as part of a regional tour, had to travel about 185 miles by bus to get to Buenos Aires after his flight was diverted to another airport, President Cristina Fernandez said.

At the other side of the Pacific, the fine ash particles, which pose a danger to aircraft bodies and engines, also forced airlines in New Zealand and Australia to cancel about 200 flights, affecting an estimated 60,000 travelers.

But the cloud drifted higher later on Monday, easing the threat to commercial aircraft and some airline activity resumed.

Photo shows smoke and ash rise from Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano, June 10, 2011. Credit: Reuters/ Ivan Alvarado 

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