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Iceland Volcano Produces Startling Fresh Eruption April 16, 2010
Eyjafjallajokull volcano and onlookers
Visitors watching the fiery eruption of Eyjafjallajökull volcano before Wednesday's blast.
Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano appeared to be calming down before a sudden blast of renewed activity on Wednesday morning sent hundreds of people fleeing.

A huge plume of ash blowing southeastward at altitudes of between 18,000 and 33,000 feet prompted aviation authorities to shut down all air traffic in Scandinavia and Britain, as well as other countries, for the first time in history.

The mountain began spewing fountains of lava above the snow-covered Icelandic landscape on March 20.

University of Iceland geologist Magnus Tumi Gudmundsson told reporters that activity within the volcano had been “declining steeply” before fresh fountains of lava and ash began melting the surrounding snow cover.

Heat from the lava quickly began to trigger snow melt and runoff, posing a threat of local flooding in the remote corner of Iceland.

The eruption has created an unexpected tourist boom for a country that has suffered from a severely collapsed economy and acutely high unemployment numbers.

Thousands have traveled the 75 miles from Reykjavik by bus, snowmobile, plane and helicopter to see Iceland’s first eruption since 2004, and the most dramatic since Hekla erupted in 2000.

Photo: Michel Detay