Chilean volcano halts more flights

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Ash from a Chilean volcano fell across a wide swath of South America on Thursday, forcing cancellation of most flights across the southern half of the continent and grounding the presidents of Argentina and Uruguay.

The ash dusted streets in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo as well as Argentina's Buenos Aires, roughly 850 miles northeast of the Cordon Caulle volcano, which began erupting through a gash in the earth on Saturday.

Volcanic ash can damage airline engines, so many flights were canceled between the capitals of Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil.

About 4,000 evacuees from Chilean towns and farms near the volcano were kept away from home Thursday as gas and ash continued to spew from a wide fissure along the a ridge between two volcanic peaks. - AP

Wildfires erupt anew in Russia

MOSCOW - A devastating wave of wildfires across Russia could ravage millions of acres of forests and cause worse damage than last year's catastrophic blazes, environmentalists and officials said Thursday.

"We're burning, burning badly," Greenpeace's Alexey Yaroshenko said.

In 2010, an unprecedented heat wave triggered fires that killed 55 people and destroyed thousands of houses and 6.4 million acres of forests - an area slightly larger than Oregon. This year, three firefighters have died, and dozens of fires have engulfed more than 1.48 million acres of forests, nearly three times more territory than this time last year.

Greenpeace said the government was silencing information about fires, especially about the renewal of peat-bog fires that cloaked the capital with acrid, toxic smoke last year. - AP

U.S. captive in Cuba doing well

HAVANA - Members of a visiting U.S. delegation have met with a jailed U.S. contractor in Cuba and report that he has lost a lot of weight in captivity but is otherwise doing well.

Sarah Stephens, head of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, said delegates met with Alan Gross, of Maryland, for two hours Thursday.

Gross was working on a USAID-funded democracy-building program when he was arrested in December 2009. He was sentenced to 15 years after being convicted of bringing communications equipment into Cuba illegally.

Gross has said he was working to improve Internet communications for Cuba's Jewish community, though Jewish leaders denied having much to do with him. U.S. officials say relations with Havana cannot improve while he remains in jail.

- AP

Elsewhere:

Dutch authorities recalled red beet sprouts from three countries after samples were found to be contaminated with a strain of E. coli that was apparently less dangerous than the one causing Europe's deadly E. coli crisis. German health officials, meanwhile, reported that three more people died of the ailment Thursday, raising the toll to 29 in less than six weeks.