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Village in Iceland volcano's shadow glimpses life after ash

by Staff Writers
Kirkjubaejarklaustur, Iceland (AFP) May 25, 2011
As Iceland's Grimsvoetn volcano calmed down Wednesday, residents of nearby Kirkjubaejarklaustur village swept away the thick layer of ash covering everything and hoped for rain.

With birds happily chirping and children frolicking in the sunlight, it's hard to imagine that just days ago the some 160 residents in the village were suffocating inside a thick cloak of brown-gray ash, blocking out the sun and turning day into night.

At the village school, 47-year-old headmaster Kjartan Kjartansson glanced around the empty class rooms, all blanketed with ash.

"When the wind came on Tuesday everything got blown through little holes and cracks in windows and doors," he said, joking that "sometimes, I suspect the ash makes its way through the concrete!"

"There's more ash inside than there is outside really. I opened one of the doors and the ash poured out," he said, adding that when he first checked in on the school on Monday, two days after Grimsvoetn started raging, "I felt a little bit like I was at the beach: sand was getting stuck between my toes."

He has plenty of time to get the place cleaned up though: When the eruption began, the school decided to let all its 38 students off a week early for the summer holidays.

For the children, an early start to the summer will likely be welcome after many remained captive indoors after the eruption began spewing ash as high as 20 kilometres (12 miles) into the sky.

Kjartansson describes how his two girls rushed outside as soon as some of the ash cleared away Tuesday, no longer able to stay "stuck inside."

Unnar Steinn Jonsson, owner of the local grocery store, said his three children, aged between two and 10, were going stir-crazy after a few days.

They "have been stuck inside with their mother since Sunday. There's plenty for them to do -- we have a huge amount of arts and crafts to keep them entertained, but they have been wanting to go outside and run around," the 40-year-old store owner said.

He himself has not stayed cooped up though: the grocery store was one of the few shops in the village to stay open, except for Sunday when it is always closed.

"We never thought about leaving," he insists, pointing out that the only families who packed up and left Kirkjubaejarklaustur were the ones with children who were already sick.

They "left as a precautionary measure. My children are all in good health and there was no reason for us to leave," he assured.

Even before experts proclaimed Wednesday that the violent eruption was basically over, as its flight-halting plume dwindled, and prime minister Johanna Sigurdardottir announced the "clean-up can begin," the wind had started doing the job in Kirjubaejarklaustur.

But while much of the ash has disappeared from the ground, the air remained laden with particles, making the usually brilliant blue sky look more like a grainy, sepia-toned photograph, covering cars early Wednesday with a thin layer of moist volcanic ash.

What is needed now, the villagers agreed, is some heavy rain to wash away all the filth Grimsvoetn left behind.

"We're just waiting for some rain, for all this to seep into the ground," Kjartansson said.




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SHAKE AND BLOW
Iceland volcano still spewing ash, Europe threatened
Reykjavik (AFP) May 24, 2011
A plume of ash from an erupting Icelandic volcano headed for Britain Tuesday, forcing flight cancellations and a change in US President Barack Obama's travel plans. The eruption of Grimsvoetn has raised concerns over a repeat of last year's travel chaos sparked by the eruption of another Icelandic volcano which led to the biggest shutdown of European airspace since World War II. "The low ... read more

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