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Two years ago, Iceland’s banks blew up spectacularly, taking much of the world by surprise and leaving the British and Dutch governments angrily out of pocket. Now, the sparsely populated north Atlantic island has produced another big explosion – again affecting the two countries. This time, nature rather than the bankers, is to blame. A volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, has erupted for the first time since 1821, sending a plume of dust up to seven miles (11 kilometres) into the atmosphere.

The volcano is situated in a remote area, so mercifully there have been no casualties. The dust cloud from the eruption has been blown east away from the island itself. Indeed, it is beyond Iceland’s shores that it is causing the most bother. The cloud has settled over large parts of north western Europe. The fine silicate dust ejected by Eyjafjallajökull turns out to be ideally designed to do critical damage to aero engines. Consequently, big chunks of European airspace have been closed.


A glance at a meteorological map would suggest that the volcano has contrived to avenge Iceland for the humiliations inflicted on it by the British and Dutch over the banking failure. Their demand that the tiny country repay up to €3.9bn of the money they spent compensating investors in the collapsed banks has stirred fury on the Icelandic street. With gratifying precision the dust cloud has blown across these two countries while barely affecting the ones around them. Both grounded flights yesterday.

That said, the weather gods have not been entirely discriminate. They have also puffed dust over Scandinavia. Norway, Sweden and Denmark have all been grounded too. They have been most willing to support the Icelanders.

Iceland is still picking over the incompetence and corruption that led to its financial explosion. The volcanic one is seen as welcome relief – giving Rekjavikers something else to talk about. But Iceland may not have exhausted its capacity for explosions. The last time Eyjafjallajokull erupted, it spread to Katla, a larger nearby volcano. If that recurred, the disruption could be far more severe. That might annoy air passengers, but it would not all be bad news. The sunsets would be spectacular.

April 15 2010, Financial Times


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