Volcanic Eruption Grinds Modern World to a Halt

Smoke and steam hangs over the volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland, early Thursday April 15, 2010, which has erupted for the second time in less than a month, melting ice, shooting smoke and steam into the air and forcing hundreds of people to flee rising floodwaters. AP Photo/Brynjar Gaudi

A volcano sneezes, and the whole world gets a major case of paralysis.

As the Icelandic eruption closed airspace over Europe, German soldiers wounded in Afghanistan couldn't get home, Europe-bound tulips risk wilting in Kenyan airports, and express mail lumbers overland instead of by air.

Barack Obama is wondering whether he can make it to Poland for a presidential funeral and royals can't get to the birthday bash of the Danish queen.

It's as if an international conveyer belt has abruptly ground to a halt, all because of a cloud of dust high up in the sky - hurting businesses, governments and ordinary travelers in a world increasingly dependent on the freedom to move around far and fast.

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Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg purchased an iPad while in New York earlier this week and found it a useful tool for remotely governing his nation while stranded in the United States.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was managing Europe's biggest economy by remote control Friday from Portugal, after her plane home from the United States was diverted to Lisbon. The government said the plane won't be able to continue its journey until Saturday lunchtime.

No planes could take off or land from many German airports Friday because of the danger that the ash cloud could stall aircraft engines, including Ramstein Air Base, a key U.S. military hub.

Five German soldiers wounded in Afghanistan on Thursday and Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg were diverted to Turkey on a flight back to Germany. The airport in Cologne to which they would usually fly is closed.

Poland faced a somber quandary: What do you do about a historic presidential funeral when many of your world leader guests may not be able to show up?

The family of late President Lech Kaczynski has urged that his state funeral be held Sunday in Krakow as planned. The president and his wife died in a plane crash Saturday in western Russia along with 94 others, and funeral guests include Obama, Merkel and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

A delay was dubbed only a "last resort" option - but it is an option.

The White House said late Thursday that Obama was still planning to fly to Poland on Saturday. But it was unclear when Poland would reopen its airports, and whether it would be in time for the ceremony.

"A two-day perspective ahead of the arrival of those planes is a relatively long time," Justyna Zajaczkowska, Krakow airport spokeswoman, told The Associated Press. "All we can do is wait."

Iraqi Airways was forced to cancel the inaugural flight of its new Baghdad to London route and postpone the ceremony celebrating the first commercial flight between the two cities in 20 years, said Transportation Ministry spokesman Kerim al-Temimi.

The flight, through Malmo, Sweden, to London was the first since 1990 when the UN imposed sanctions after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.

Not a single rental car could be found in Paris or any of its suburbs Friday. With no flights out of Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, and more than 20 others across northern France, travelers aiming to get out of France tried whatever they could to reach points south.

France's famed high-speed trains were not much of an option. Some drivers for the SNCF rail authority are on strike, disrupting traffic. And many French families are heading off on school vacation starting Friday night. All long-distance trains heading south of Paris were booked Friday.

Anissa Isker arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport early Friday morning in hopes of taking her son Ryan, who has a rare genetic disease that has bound him to a wheelchair, to Miami for specialized treatment that could help him walk.

The hard-to-schedule treatment costs $3,000, a sum she is set to lose if they can't leave this weekend. The French civil aviation authority is keeping airports in northern France closed until at least Saturday morning.

"I think it's going to be tough," she said. "When I told him we cannot leave, he got nervous, because he understood the situation," Isker told AP Television News.

Potentially lifesaving organs, too, were stranded.

A spokeswoman for the German Foundation for Organ Transplant said that in coordination with the European organization Eurotransplant, all organs that usually get flown out to patients were instead being distributed regionally.

Patients were currently being considered for organ transplants on the basis of how close they are to a delivery.

"Hearts, lungs and livers, which are normally transported by air, are now delivered regionally and by ground travel," said spokeswoman Nadine Koerner.

Disruptions extended to Africa. A group of five people from Sierra Leone and Liberia had to abandon a fact-finding trip to the war crimes trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor in The Hague because of the volcano.

Groups from Sierra Leone and Liberia regularly visit the court as part of an outreach program. They then can go home and inform their communities about the trial of Taylor, who is accused of arming and supporting murderous rebels during Sierra Leone's civil war.

Special Court for Sierra Leone spokesman Soloman Moriba said the five travelers had been forced to scrap their trip because the Icelandic ash cloud grounded planes to Belgium and the Netherlands.

In Madrid, the flight disruptions hit a meeting of European Union finance ministers working on the Greek debt crisis.

Delegations from Ireland, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden were among those missing their ministers or otherwise altered.

Two EU heavyweights - Economy Commissioner Olli Rehn and Financial Services Commissioner Michel Barnier - caught the last flight out of Paris' Orly airport Thursday, but only after having considered making an overnight train ride from Brussels to the Spanish capital, a journey unheard-of for modern EU officials, accustomed to jetting across borders several times a week.

"I'm very glad to be here, despite all the volcano fallout," Rehn said once he made it to Madrid. "Barnier and I, we were about to resort to a kind of middle-aged Interail."

A few royals, generally accustomed to smooth travel, had to bail out on a big birthday party: That of Denmark's Queen Margrethe, turning 70.

Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia and Iceland's President Olafur R. Grimsson are among dignitaries who couldn't make it to Copenhagen because of the ash cloud.

Others in doubt included Britain's Prince Philip, Belgium's Crown Prince Philippe and his wife Princess Mathilde. The monarchs of neighboring Sweden and Norway missed the first part of the program on Thursday.

The ash snarled business plans, from an Italian winemaker trying to get to a wine festival in Norway to Dutch flower importers.

"The imports that were planned for today are still on the ground, mainly in Kenya and Israel. Kenya roses and Israel summer flowers," said Winny Paauw, of flower auctioneer FloraHolland.

She said the ash cloud had not yet significantly hit the multibillion dollar Dutch cut flower industry, however, as most exported flowers go by road or rail and the tulip season is past its peak.

She said she did not know when flowers would start being flown in again. Even when flights resume. "I suspect passenger planes will get priority."

With planes in Norway grounded Friday and trains booked up, British comedian John Cleese resorted to a 30,000-kroner ($5,100) taxi ride to get home from Oslo, where he taped an appearance on a popular Norwegian talk show Thursday night.

The taxi ride will take him as far as Brussels, where he hopes to catch a Saturday train to London, Cleese's Norwegian publicist, Kjetil Kristoffersen, told The AP.

To find a taxi willing to make the 15-hour drive, Kristoffersen called a childhood friend, who drove his taxi to Oslo Friday morning from his hometown of Horten, about an hour south of the Norwegian capital.

"He did me a big favor," Kristoffersen said. "He's probably going to miss his 40th birthday party on Saturday because of this. He'd planned it in advance, invited guests, everything."

Kristoffersen said it was unclear exactly who would furnish the driver with his fare, but that he and Cleese would iron out the details later.

Kristoffersen said Cleese's reaction to the setback was good-humored.

"He told me, 'It seems the Icelanders can't control their banks or their volcanos."'

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