Volcanic Ash Cancels Flights

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Ash from a major volcanic eruption in Chile has cancelled hundreds of flights and stranded 25,000 passengers from neighboring Argentina to far-away New Zealand and Australia, and experts say this could be just the beginning. "It's got a very strong satellite signal and it's right up there with the big, big eruption clouds ... it will keep going. I would suspect it will do a loop of the globe," Andrew Tupper of the Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Strong westerly winds are pushing the cloud from the Cordon Caulle volcano but the plume over the South Pacific, 6,000 miles away, is expected to start dissipating soon. Australian airlines are taking no chances but New Zealand's flag carrier is still flying.

"We always put safety before schedule," Qantas spokeswoman Emma Kearns told the Sydney Morning Herald. " We have decided that we don't believe it's safe to fly. If you get ash cloud in your engines it can seize your engines up." Air New Zealand is maintaining its schedule but flying at lower altitudes to stay out of the ash. The ash is affecting flights as far north as Melbourne and it came as Australians and New Zealanders were in the middle of a long holiday weekend. The volcano has forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people in Chile and officials there are worried that a river that has its source on the mountain will silt up and cause widespread flooding. The volcano has heated the water in the river to more than 100 F. The eruption began last Sept. 28.