One volcano and Europe grinds to halt

  • Fri Apr 16th, 2010 6:09pm
  • Life

By Angela Charlton Associated Press

PARIS — A volcano sneezes, and the whole world gets a major case of paralysis.

As the Icelandic eruption closed airspace over Europe, German soldiers wounded in Afghanistan couldn’t get home, Europe-bound tulips risk wilting in Kenyan airports, and express mail lumbers overland instead of by air.

President Barack Obama was wondering Friday whether he can make it to Poland for a presidential funeral and royals can’t get to the birthday bash of the Danish queen.

It’s as if an international conveyer belt has abruptly ground to a halt, all because of a cloud of dust high up in the sky — hurting businesses, governments and ordinary travelers in a world increasingly dependent on the freedom to move around far and fast.

Traveling leaders govern via cyberspace

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg bought an iPad while in New York earlier this week and found it a useful tool for remotely governing his nation while stranded in the United States.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was managing Europe’s biggest economy by remote control Friday from Portugal, after her plane home from the United States was diverted to Lisbon.

No planes can take off or land from many German airports because of the danger that the ash cloud could stall aircraft engines, including Ramstein Air Base, a key U.S. military hub.

Five German soldiers wounded in Afghanistan on Thursday and Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg were diverted to Turkey on a flight back to Germany. The airport in Cologne to which they would usually fly is closed.

Poland faced a somber quandary: What do you do about a historic presidential funeral when many of your world leader guests may not be able to show up?

The family of late President Lech Kaczynski has urged that his state funeral be held Sunday in Krakow as planned. The president and his wife died in a plane crash last Saturday in western Russia along with 94 others, and funeral guests include Obama, Merkel and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Iraqi Airways was forced to cancel the inaugural flight of its new Baghdad to London route and postpone the ceremony celebrating the first commercial flight between the two cities in 20 years, said Transportation Ministry spokesman Kerim al-Temimi.

Some disrupted plans, such as transplants, are critical

Not a single rental car could be found in Paris or any of its suburbs Friday. With no flights out of Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, and more than 20 others across northern France, travelers aiming to get out of France tried whatever they could to reach points south.

France’s famed high-speed trains were not much of an option. Some drivers for the SNCF rail authority are on strike, disrupting traffic. And many French families were heading off on school vacation starting Friday night. All long-distance trains heading south of Paris were booked Friday.

A spokeswoman for the German Foundation for Organ Transplant said that in coordination with the European organization Eurotransplant, all organs that usually get flown out to patients were instead being distributed regionally.

Patients were currently being considered for organ transplants on the basis of how close they are to a delivery.

“Hearts, lungs and livers, which are normally transported by air, are now delivered regionally and by ground travel,” spokeswoman Nadine Koerner said.

In Madrid, the flight disruptions hit a meeting of European Union finance ministers working on the Greek debt crisis.

A few royals, generally accustomed to smooth travel, had to bail out on a big birthday party: That of Denmark’s Queen Margrethe, turning 70.

The ash snarled business plans: an Italian winemaker trying to get to a wine festival in Norway, Dutch flower importers.

“The imports that were planned for today are still on the ground, mainly in Kenya and Israel. Kenya roses and Israel summer flowers,” said Winny Paauw, of flower auctioneer FloraHolland.

She said the ash cloud had not yet significantly hit the multibillion dollar Dutch cut flower industry, however, as most exported flowers go by road or rail and the tulip season is past its peak.

With planes in Norway grounded Friday and trains booked up, British comedian John Cleese resorted to a $5,100 taxi ride to get home from Oslo, where he taped an appearance on a popular Norwegian talk show Thursday night.