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Ash from volcano eruption forces Alaska Airlines to cancel flights

Posted: Tuesday, August 12, 2008

ANCHORAGE - Alaska Airlines has resumed operations in Alaska and major West Coast cities after scrapping 44 flights because of a rising cloud of ash resulting from a volcano eruption last week.

At least 5,000 travelers were stranded Sunday night and early Monday morning when a shift in the wind moved a giant ash plume into flight routes, causing Alaska Airlines to cancel flights into and out of Alaska.

The carrier, a subsidiary of Alaska Air Group Inc., said it canceled flights between Alaska and cities including Denver, Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia.

"The entire state is unflyable," Alaska Airlines staff told passengers at Seattle's airport Sunday, according to Chelsea Harms, an Anchorage woman who was booked on Flight 111 to Anchorage.

Alaska would add flights to try to accommodate the stranded passengers, according to Caroline Boren, Alaska Airlines spokeswoman. Travelers can check flight status at alaskaair.com or (800) ALASKA-AIR. Boren said Continental, Delta and United had canceled some flights.

Alaska Airlines made the decision to halt flights after the National Weather Service issued a SIGMET (Significant Meteorological Information) warning for an area in Southeast Alaska near the Panhandle when the wind shifted to carry some ash into the Gulf of Alaska and some over the northwestern coast of Canada.

Kristi Wallace, a research geologist for the Alaska Volcano Observatory, said the wind sheared off part of a 40,000-foot ash plume from Kasatochi in the central Aleutians and carried it northeast from the North Pacific to the middle of the Panhandle.

Kasatochi erupted Thursday and is one of three volcanoes currently simmering in the Aleutians, along with Mount Cleveland and Okmok..



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