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Montserrat Battles Ash Cloud

February 14, 2010

Many flights around the Caribbean remained cancelled Saturday due to clouds of ash spewed up into the skies on the island of Montserrat.

The ash forced LIAT, the region’s biggest airline, to temporarily suspend flights in and out of Antigua’s V.C. Bird International airport.

Montserrat’s Soufriere Hills volcano erupted Thursday, sending a plume of ash 10 kilometers high into the sky, the Montserrat Volcano Observatory said.

“The continued ash hanging in the atmosphere presents a risk to planes and to the security of passengers,” the police in the nearby island of Guadeloupe said in a statement.

“It is makes you sneeze a lot,” Gregory Willock, the president of the Montserrat Cricket Association, told AFP from the nearby island of Antigua.

The ash is also creating difficult driving conditions.

“Visibility was extremely poor. Coming off a hill you don’t see what’s below. I had to switch (my lights) to low beam all the time because high beam confused me even more,” a local said.

Meteorological officials described the ash fall as “quite bad.”

“All I know is it can create problems for people who have sinus problems,” Willock added, saying many residents had taken to wearing masks while schools and government offices have been operating as normal.

Montserrat is about 35 kilometers south of Antigua and Barbuda, but residents on the southern side of Antigua repotred that heavy ash had fallen on their homes and made driving conditions difficult at times.

Thursday’s eruption came almost 15 years after the volcano, which had lain dormant throughout recorded history, first rumbled into life in July 1995.

Senior forecaster Lorne Salmon says weather conditions have a lot to do in how thick the ash will fall.

Cooling meant the air had become heavier, sinking into valley and low-lying areas.

“When this happens a lot of the ash becomes more concentrated,” she said.

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