Video: Volcano eruptions continue to intensify

  1. Closed captioning of: Volcano eruptions continue to intensify

    >>> good evening . there are ominous new signs from iceland tonight that the eruption of that volcano which has crippled european air traffic is far from over . scientists just back from a flyover of the exploding mountain say it could continue for weeks. tonight that towering plume of volcanic ash continues to straddle vital air routes leaving airports from britain bryto ukraine closed and stranding passengers in virtually every corner of the world . we have the latest on the eruption and the fallout. let's begin with nbc 's chris jansing in iceland . she flew over the volcano today and joins us now from a farm just outside the mountain area. chris ?

    >> reporter: good evening , lester . today was actually the first time since this volcano started erupting on wednesday that the skies cleared enough for scientists to go up in the air and make those critical assessments about how long these eruptions and thus the disruptions might continue. we took an expert along with us on our helicopter ride, and i can only describe what we saw flying very close to that volcano as both menacing and mesmeri mesmerizing. from 5,000 feet above southern iceline, the eyjafjallajokull volcano showed its explosive and growing power . glacial ice from atop the mountain continued to mix with 25 hundred degree magma, a potent and potentially catastrophic combination.

    >> you can imagine what it takes to fragment a batch of rock into something the size of, you know, grains of sugar or smaller, into flour sized pieces. it tells you just how immense amount of energy it takes.

    >> reporter: university of cam britain volucanologist studied volcanos around the world these are like any she has ever seen.

    >> there are steam clouds which billows higher up. and then there is more dense ash brown clouds which carries hundreds of tons of material. you can really appreciate that no airplane can fly through this.

    >> reporter: her assessment, with only a third of the ice cap melted, eruptions could continue for weeks. and shifting winds have now carried the massive cloud south , an increasing threat , not only in the air, but on the ground. high winds have been sweeping the ash across these open fields and carrying with it those little shards of glass and rock, the same things that are so dangerous to planes are dangerous to humans and they started evacuations in two towns. meteorologists recorded wind gusts of 40 miles per hour. and as the black cloud moved to block the daylight, it was like driving into hell. as we were coming in here it was actually sunny, like going from day to night. we can only see a few feet ahead of us. late this afternoon, rescue vehicles were moving in to do safety sweeps as more residents and their horses moved out. most lived in the shadow of this volcano for many years, and respect its devastating potential.

    >> i would never take them for granted, never just think they're pretty things to look at.

    >> reporter: by night fall , the plume had expanded to 30,000 feet, with eruptions continuing to intensify, warning of continuing danger for everything in its path. one of those continuing threats is flooding and a number of people who live in those flood prone areas have just moved out as a precautionary measure. in fact, police emphasize that none of the evacuations are mandatory, but, lester , as you saw from the pictures, there are places around here that are just completely uninhabitable.

    >> chris jansing . thank you for sharing the amazing images tonight . now to where all this

Special to
updated 4/17/2010 12:58:26 PM ET 2010-04-17T16:58:26

Since the Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupted three days ago, an ominous cloud has formed above the glacier, a blanket of ash has settled over southeastern Iceland, glacial runoff is flooding the area, and delivery trucks have been stalled with 10,567 gallons of milk — at least that’s what we’re seeing on the news from Reykjavik.

Given the international coverage of the eruption and the widespread effect it is having on travel in Europe and other parts of the world, people are wondering what’s happening here at the epicenter of it all. I’ve been getting messages from friends in the United States wondering if I’m OK, if everything is covered in ash, if the air quality is safe, and if I’m in danger of the floods.

But the truth is, from Reykjavík, we not only can’t see the volcano, which is located about 85 miles east of us, but we have also been spared the ash, which is traveling southeast to northern Europe. Strangely, this eruption has had more impact on people throughout the world than on people in Iceland. Ash is falling as far as Milan and Icelanders only a few miles away are completely unaffected.

In the south, a few small towns have been evacuated from the path of potential flooding, but the number of people affected pales in comparison to the number of people stranded all over Europe. The road between the towns of Hvolsvöllur and Skógar has been closed to the public, but it is still possible to drive necessary supplies across an old bridge. Farmers in the area are concerned that if the eruption keeps up, the ash could contaminate their animals' water supply, and thus the volcano poses a real threat to their livelihood.

Which way the wind blows
Meanwhile, in Reykjavík, while people are glued to the news and there is a general awe over eruption’s worldwide impact, most people don’t seem overly worried about the impact the eruption could have here. Not yet, that is.

But, as a friend of mine pointed out, that’s likely to change as soon as the ash starts blowing our way. There is an ever-popular saying here, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.” If wind patterns change, the ash could very well start raining on us here in the greater Reykjavík area, which is home to about two-thirds of Iceland’s 320,000 residents.

Of course, there is definitely a lot of uncertainty as to what’s going to happen next. Some are wondering whether the nearby and much larger volcano, Katla, will follow suit. Historically it has often followed Eyjafjallajokull eruptions within days or months.

Video: Ash cloud forces expansion of no-fly zone That’s not to say that people are actively living in fear. In fact, after the first eruption at Fimmvörðuháls, the Fox news coverage became a viral hit for what Icelanders deemed an overdramatized absurdity with the reporter predicting some kind of doomsday.

The current eruption is admittedly far more serious than the first one, and I think most people would like this one to stop before it causes any more damage. Some point out that the number of travelers being affected is greater than the number of farmers being affected, but it is a matter of inconvenience versus livelihood.

At the same, a nonchalant attitude prevails in the city. I’ve heard people scoff at the “Support Iceland” Twitter twibbon campaign and jokes making light of the situation are flying every which way, especially given Iceland’s IceSave debt dispute with the Brits and the Dutch — though I think I’ve heard the cash-ash mix-up joke ("You've heard about Gordon Brown? When he heard about Iceland he wanted cash, but there's no 'c' in the Icelandic language, so we gave him ash.") a few too many times. People have also been sending around this great photo of the eruption, which looks like a vicious man-eating monster emerging from the glacier.

Welcome diversion?
For some, the eruption seems to be a welcome diversion from the otherwise constant stream of news reporting on Iceland’s financial crisis. In fact, the volcano erupted the day after a 6,000-page investigative report into the October 2008 banking collapse was released. At least, Iceland’s crooks are likely happy to be out of the limelight.

So, until south Iceland has been wiped out by floods, until we are forced to wear gas masks whenever we leave the house and until we have to dig our cars out of the ash, maybe Iceland’s concerned twitter friends should switch their “Support Iceland” twibbons to something like, “Support Stranded Travelers” because of all the people impacted by this eruption, I mostly feel sorry for them.

In case Iceland’s erratic weather has changed by the time you read this, stay tuned for an eruption of widespread panic in Reykjavik. And to read volcano updates from Iceland in English, see:

Anna Andersen graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2009 and currently lives in Reykjavik and attends the University of Iceland.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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