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40,000 Americans stranded in Britain due to ash cloud

The White House said Monday that 40,000 Americans were stranded in Britain because of the huge number of flight cancellations due to the cloud of volcanic ash.

Many more US citizens also appeared to be having trouble returning home from vacation or business trips in other parts of Europe, amid an aviation crisis brought on by the eruption of a volcano in Iceland which led to airspace closures across much of the continent.

President Barack Obama’s spokesman said the US ambassador to Britain Louis Susman had called the White House earlier Monday with an update on the situation.

“I think there are approximately, according to him, about 40,000 Americans in England that are trying, because of the disruption in air travel, to get back to this country,” spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

Some of the stranded Americans were running out of medicine or didn’t have places to stay, said Gibbs, adding that the US State Department was looking into the situation.

Asked whether the US Navy could follow the example of Britain’s Royal Navy and seek to rescue some stranded citizens, Gibbs said he was unaware of any such plans.

“We’ve got some big ships, but that would be a pretty big ship,” he said.

Obama cancelled plans to fly to Poland at the weekend for the funeral of president Lech Kaczynski, who died in a plane crash, owing to safety concerns brought on by the ash cloud.