Travel plans are up in the air for at least a week
Little chance of volcanic ash cloud blowing away by Friday, writes Don Lavery
Tens of thousands of Irish air passengers face another week of disruption with little chance of the volcanic ash cloud blowing away until next Friday.
As thousands of people scrambled to make alternative arrangements to leave Ireland or return to the country using a combination of ferries, buses and trains, the Government Taskforce on Emergency Planning warned that significant restrictions would continue to affect air travel in northern Europe for the next few days.
Maurice Mullen, assistant secretary at the Department of Transport, conceded: "This is going to be a difficult week in terms of aviation operations."
And the Irish Aviation Authority said, based on the latest weather reports from the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in London, that they had closed all Irish airspace to commercial traffic until 1pm today, including travel to North America.
Similar restrictions are also in force in northern and central Europe but the Aviation Authority and the Government Taskforce are expected to issue updates on the situation today.
The dust spewed out by the erupting Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland could clog jet engines causing them to stop and a plane to crash.
A media briefing by the Government Taskforce was cautious about putting a date by which the situation would improve saying the weather was not likely to change for the next couple of days.
However, Evelyn Cusack of the Met Office said they did not see south-westerly winds and gales clearing away the dust until Friday. "There's not a chance before Friday for a big clearance," she said.
Mr Mullen said the taskforce was reluctant to say what day the situation would improve because of the difficult weather patterns but he said the present situation would continue "well into the week, towards the end of the week". "We will be guided at all times by the advice that comes in," he said, reflecting the changing situation.
While there could be some light rain this week which could "wash" ash out of the atmosphere, the Met Office expects it to be largely dry until Thursday.
It said for Friday and next weekend: "Current indications are for the Atlantic southwesterlies to break through bringing in mild, windy and occasionally wet weather."
The taskforce said the advice from the European Centre of Disease Control indicated that the amount of ash likely to come to ground was minimal and the impact on health would be equally minimal.
"However, as at any time, those with respiratory disease/infections should ensure they have their medication with them at all times," it said.
The Environmental Protection Agency is continuing to monitor air quality and it said the monitoring had not shown any increase in pollution as a result of the ash cloud. Dr Kevin Kelleher, assistant national director of health protection at the HSE, said if the ash fell to the ground as a result of rain that would be the best scenario from a health perspective as the ash would be part of water. He also thought there was little possibility of the material getting into the food chain.
The HSE, meanwhile, posted on its website that: "If particles do reach ground level it is important to stress that the concentration of particles is likely to be low and should not cause serious harm.
"In the unlikely event that people are outside and notice symptoms such as itchy or irritated eyes, runny nose, sore throat or dry cough, or if they notice a dusty haze in the air or can smell sulphur, rotten eggs, or a strong acidic smell, they may wish to limit their activities outdoors or return indoors.
"Those with existing respiratory conditions such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma may notice these effects more than others and should ensure they have any inhalers or other medications with them. Any such health effects are likely to be short term."
With advice from the different bodies being updated daily, the taskforce advised intending passengers to contact their airline or travel agent before they travel.
The cost of the disruption in economic terms is still unclear but Mr Mullen said while the taskforce's primary focus was on safety issues, he said it was looking at "those elements at this stage".
Meanwhile, the National Concert Hall cancelled two concerts today because the ash had grounded flights across Europe.
Bus Eireann put on additional coaches for its 7.30pm Eurolines Dublin (Busaras) -- London (city centre) service today to cater for people wishing to travel to the UK who have been disrupted by the volcanic ash.
Customers were advised to purchase their tickets online at www.buseireann.ie.