Nightly News   |  April 17, 2010

Volcano eruptions continue to intensify

Scientists returning from a flyover of the exploding Eyjafjallajoekull volcano in Iceland Saturday warn the eruptions could continue for weeks. NBC's Chris Jansing reports.

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>>> 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