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Pain in the ash: Icelandic volcano ash clouds tie up NYC travelers, restaurants, festivals

Stranded travelers await flights home to France on Sunday at Big Apple Hostel in midtown. (Photo: Tiffany L. Clark)

Chaos from the ash clouds of the Icelandic volcano reverberated through New York, turning Kennedy Airport into a “refugee camp,” leaving high-end restaurants fearful they’d miss food shipments and even unsettling organizers of this week’s Tribeca Film Festival.

But the pain was greatest Sunday for stranded travelers, even as officials announced air traffic Monday could improve significantly.

“She’s wondering if she’ll ever get home or if she should build a new life in New York,” said Marie Calfopoulos, 25, translating for a French-speaking friend.

Calfopoulos and her friends forfeited visiting Central Park on Sunday — the last day of their Gotham vacation — to stay in and follow news about the still-active volcano causing worldwide disruptions. The clouds kept President Barack Obama and other world leaders from attending the funeral of Polish President Lech Kaczynski.

Kennedy Airport resembled a “refugee camp,” according to Rhiannon Thomas, of Birmingham, England. She said her family was lucky to have nabbed some of the hundreds of cots that filled Kennedy’s Terminal 4. “Some people slept on cardboard,” Thomas said.

International filmmakers heading to the Tribeca Film Festival were delayed, and scrambled Sunday to secure new flights, said Tammy Rosen of Tribeca Enterprises. Screenings for the event, which begins Wednesday, would go on as scheduled, she added.

Some city restaurants were worried about halted shipments of European ingredients. “We got really lucky and got our last shipment of short-dated cakes on Wednesday. It was flown in by the skin of our teeth,” said Peter Myers, owner of Myers of Keswick. At Balthazar, “quite a few calls” came in from Europeans who had to cancel reservations at the SoHo restaurant, a publicist said.

The European Union said flights would return to 50 percent of normal levels Monday, if the ash clouds dispersed. Passenger-free test flights Sunday showed flying was possible through the clouds, although 80 percent of European airspace was still closed.

However soon things return to normal, the waiting list to catch a flight will be long.

“I’ll just go to go to the airport and wait,” said Verity Holloway, 20, of Buckinghamshire, England, who was stranded at a Manhattan hostel. Out of cash, the student was frantically trying frantically to call the British Embassy. “At the moment, I’m not sure what to do. I’m stressed and I just want to go home.”

Kimberly Spell, a spokeswoman for NYC & Co., the city’s tourism agency, said officials would meet Monday morning to discuss whether to extend hotel discounts offered to stranded tourists that were scheduled to expire Monday. She said assistance might also be given by car service companies.

Micha Hoppe, 30, who was supposed to fly home to Germany on Sunday, but now can’t fly out for another week, tried to stay light-hearted.

“We hope that New York will build a new district for stranded Europeans,” he said.

Jason Fink, Robert Levin, Lucy Cohen Blatter and the AP contributed to this story.

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