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Ash cloud from Iceland volcano shuts down air traffic

Ash cloud from Iceland's spewing volcano halted air traffic across a wide swath of Europe on Thursday.

In this image made available by the Icelandic Coastguard, smoke and steam rises from the volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland, which erupted for the second time in less than a month, melting ice, shooting smoke and steam into the air and forcing hundreds of people to flee rising floodwaters.

AP Photo/Icelandic Coastguard

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An ash cloud from Iceland's spewing volcano halted air traffic across a wide swath of Europe on Thursday, grounding planes on a scale unseen since the 2001 terror attacks as authorities stopped all flights over Britain, Ireland and the Nordic countries.

Thousands of flights were canceled, stranding tens of thousands of passengers, and officials said it was not clear when it would be safe enough to fly again.

An aviation expert said it was the first time in living memory that an ash cloud had affected some of the most congested airspace in the world, while a scientist in Iceland said the ejection of volcanic ash — and therefore disruptions in air travel — could continue for days or even weeks.

IN PICTURES: Iceland volcano

"At the present time it is impossible to say when we will resume flying," said Henrik Peter Joergensen, the spokesman for Copenhagen's airport in Denmark, where some 25,000 passengers were affected.

The ash plume, which rose to between 20,000 feet and 36,000 feet (6,000 meters and 11,000 meters), lies above the Atlantic Ocean close to the flight paths for most routes from the U.S. east coast to Europe.

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