World Travel Watch: Havoc in Central America, Volcano Fears in Iceland and More

World Travel Watch: Larry Habegger rounds up global travel news

06.02.10 | 12:55 PM ET

World Travel Watch is a weekly report designed to help you make informed judgments about travel. Conditions can change overnight, so always make your own inquiries before you leave home. The U.S. State Department and embassies or consulates are good places to start.

Central America: Tropical Storm Agatha, Pacayo Volcano Wreak Havoc

Tropical storm Agatha ravaged Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador over the weekend, causing scores of mudslides and significant flooding, and killing at least 179 people. The eruption of Guatemala’s Pacayo volcano a few days before Agatha hit compounded the country’s problems, dumping tons of ash on Guatemala City and elsewhere that turned to thick mud in the storm. The ash forced Guatemala City’s international airport to close for five days. The disaster reminded many of the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, when nearly 11,000 people died. Agatha was not on the same scale as Mitch, but recovering from it will take weeks across the region.

Iceland: Second Volcano About to Blow?

Scientists warned that Iceland’s Katla volcano, much larger than Eyjafjallajokull, may be on the verge of eruption. A research paper prepared by the University College of London Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction analyzed the last decade of seismic activity around Katla and found that an eruption soon is a strong possibility. Historically, Katla has followed Eyjafjallajokull eruptions within days or months. The Iceland government has warned nearby countries that a major eruption is likely and urged them to plan contingencies for the ash clouds that would follow. Eyjafjallajokull’s recent eruption disrupted air travel throughout northern Europe and remains a concern.

India: Maoist Rebels Blamed for Train Disaster, Vow Safe Passage

A train wreck that killed at least 148 people May 28 in West Bengal was blamed on Maoist rebels known as Naxalites, but the Maoists claimed they had nothing to do with the sabotage and would guarantee safe passage of any trains through areas where they are active. Police, however, said they had evidence that the Maoists were behind the attack on the Kolkata-Mumbai express. Railway officials canceled night trains in central and eastern regions of the country where the Maoists are active, and rescheduled services in the east to ensure they passed through rebel areas in daylight.

Libya: U.S.-Libya Agreement Opens Tourism Doors

The signing of a trade agreement between the U.S. and Libya May 20 prompted Libyan authorities to lift visa restrictions on U.S. citizens, opening the door to Americans to get easier access to the country. Previously, visa requests could be delayed for months and tourist visas were seldom granted; now, visas are being issued to U.S. citizens, and as part of a plan to attract 1.5 million tourists annually by 2012, visas for most nationalities will soon be available on arrival.

South Africa: SA and UK Police Keep Soccer Hooligans Out; Cape Town Outsmarts Thieves

In its effort to control crime during the upcoming World Cup competition, South Africa has worked closely with British police to prevent known British hooligans from entering the country. The kind of soccer violence that Europe has battled for years does not occur in South Africa, so police have no experience with it. Last month a dozen known hooligans were apprehended trying to reach South Africa via Dubai. In other news, Cape Town is keeping its street lights burning day and night to deter criminals from stealing electrical cables, reasoning that thieves would not risk trying to steal live wires, and burning electricity is cheaper than replacing equipment. In 2008, national blackouts plagued much of the country, but for the World Cup all stadiums have generators in place to maintain power supplies during matches.

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