Giant Ash Cloud Threatens Pacific Flights


A giant plume of volcanic ash is disrupting flights in the Pacific and threatening villagers in Vanuatu, echoing similar problems that caused chaos in Europe, scientists and officials said on Monday.

Forecasters in New Zealand said the cloud, spewing from Vanuatu’s Mount Yasur volcano, was about 6,000 feet high and covered an area of about 132 square miles.

Tourists have been urged to stay away from the volcano on Tanna island, which has disrupted domestic flights in neighbouring New Caledonia.

Peter Korisa of the National Disaster Management Office, who is on Tanna to assess the situation, said lava and hot rocks had been spewing from the volcano and ash was raining down on nearby villages.

“There are 6,000 people in the villages around the volcano. We’re not moving them out yet,” Korisa said.

“All tourists and tourist operators have been asked to not access the volcano. The access is restricted.”

Tristan Oakley, an aviation forecaster with New Zealand’s Meteorological Service, said authorities had issued an advisory and it was up to airlines to avoid the affected area or cancel flights if necessary.

The plume has forced New Caledonia’s AirCal to cancel two internal flights and delay another, although disruption remains tiny compared to the havoc seen in Europe – including a week-long shutdown in the continent’s north in April.

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