Tourists evacuated amid Iceland's volcano concerns
Authorities have evacuated tourists from an area north of Iceland's largest glacier amid increased seismic activity around a volcano in the past few days.
Iceland's civil protection department said 300 to 500 people, mostly visitors, have been evacuated from the highlands north of the Vatnajokull glacier. The area is uninhabited but popular with hikers in the summer.
Officials said the measure was taken as a safety precaution following thousands of small earthquakes in recent days near Bardarbunga, a sub-glacial stratovolcano under the glacier.
Roads in the area have been closed amid fears that an eruption could lead to serious flooding.
The prospect of a volcano eruption is worrying because of the international aviation chaos that followed the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajokul volcano, when more than 100,000 flights were cancelled.
Meanwhile, Irish airlines have been put on alert amid fears that seismic activity at the volcano could cause a new ash cloud.
The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) has said it is "closely monitoring the situation" following notice from the Icelandic meteorological service.
The orange alert is the second most severe warning.
Four years ago, ash from the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull shut down much of Europe's airspace for six days in April 2010 and cost airlines here around €70m in refunds, customer expenses and other costs.
In total, the massive ash cloud grounded over 11,000 Irish flights and passengers may now have to brace themselves for further potential disruption to services.
The IAA, which has responsibility for the management of Irish-controlled airspace, last night said it was following developments.
"The IAA is aware of the increased alert warning concerning the seismic activity that started on 16 of August at Bardarbunga in Iceland and is closely monitoring the situation.
"As safety is our priority, if any threats to aviation arise we will quickly inform the travelling public. At present, all operations are normal," the authority said in a statement.
A spokesperson for Aer Lingus said the airline was monitoring the situation closely but said he didn't foresee any disruption to services in the short term.
"We don't have any particular concerns at the moment. We will be led by the reaction of the Irish Aviation Authority in the event there is an ash cloud," he said.
Met Eireann said it was aware of the alert upgrade and said a number of conditions would determine the effects of any potential eruption.
"It is something we are monitoring closely, as is the British Met Office, to see where it's going to go and what effects it might have," Met Eireann's Pat Clarke told the Irish Independent.
"It may become an issue for us but it depends on a whole variety of conditions, including concentrations and weather patterns."
Eurocontrol, the Brussels-based agency responsible for co-ordinating European airspace, said it was aware of the orange alert upgrade and said it was monitoring the situation closely.
"There is currently no impact on aviation and the Network Manager Operations Centre is monitoring the situation. Europe is more prepared to deal with volcanic ash these days; we have better mechanisms in place than we did in 2010.
"Every year, volcanic ash exercises are conducted and we learn from them: the latest one was held in April this year," the agency said.