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Volcanic ash strands 30,000 in Australia, NZ

June 12, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Tens of thousands of passengers in Australia and New Zealand were stranded after an ash cloud from an erupting volcano in southern Chile spread, threatening to damage engines.

Several airlines in Australia and New Zealand have suspended flights Sunday, including Qantas Airways, Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Tiger. Up to 30,000 passengers have been affected.

The dust cloud from Chile's erupting Cordon Caulle volcano could disrupt travel for the next several days, according to Airservices Australia. It said the main ash cloud had reached southern Tasmania and New Zealand's South Island but it was expected to pass to the south of the Australian mainland.

New Zealand's Civil Aviation Authority said the ash plumes could affect airplane cruising levels for both jet and turboprop aircraft at between 20,000 and 35,000 feet.

The volcano began erupting June 4. Flights in the South American countries of Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil were grounded for some days following the eruption.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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