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New Zealand and Australia: Earthquake, ash clouds force flight cancellations and strand travelers

June 13, 2011|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger
  • A car is mired in water after two strong aftershocks caused sinkholes and more damage in Christchurch, New Zealand.
A car is mired in water after two strong aftershocks caused sinkholes and… (Martin Hunter/Getty Images )

Strong aftershocks from New Zealand's deadly quake, plus a drifting ash cloud from a volcanic eruption in Chile, disrupted flights, temporarily closed airports and stranded travelers in Australia and New Zealand on Monday. South American travelers also continued to be delayed.

New Zealand tourism officials are warning travelers to the Christchurch area to be prepared for more aftershocks after a pair of strong earthquakes Monday caused more damage to the city center, already devastated by the deadly quake in February. No deaths were reported from the recent aftershocks.

The aftershocks -- magnitude 5.5 at 1 p.m. and a magnitude 6.0 at 2:20 p.m. local time -- temporarily shut Christchurch International Airport. Sinkholes, falling rock and power failures were reported in the city and its suburbs. Because of the aftershocks, Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand were waiving change fees for travelers whose flights were canceled or delayed.

But quakes weren't the only cause of travel problems. Strong high-altitude winds blew volcanic ash from an eruption in the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle chain in southern Chile into New Zealand and Australian airspace, causing cancellations of dozens of flights for some airlines.

Qantas canceled Tuesday morning flights to Adelaide in southern Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand because of the threat of the volcanic cloud. It also outlined change fee waiver guidelines for travelers who need to change their tickets.

Australia-based budget carrier JetStar Airways canceled flights Monday and also canceled international flights Tuesday between Singapore and Auckland, as well as more than 30 domestic/regional flights to New Zealand and Tasmania.

Air New Zealand's website, however, said Monday that the airline wasn't expecting any flight cancellations because of the ash cloud.

The ash cloud that shut down air travel in many parts of South America last week continued to cause problems there too.

Airports in Argentina, Uruguay and other countries shut down and airlines canceled dozens of flights because of the ash plume that began after a June 4 eruption, Reuters reported. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who had embarked on a visit to Argentina, had to take a bus to Buenos Aires after his flight was diverted because of the ash, according to Reuters.

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