Chile’s Calbuco volcano kept villagers on edge Saturday as it spewed fire and ash after two powerful eruptions blanketed the region in suffocating volcanic debris.
A sleeping giant for more than 50 years, the volcano came to life in spectacular bursts of ash and lava Wednesday and Thursday that forced thousands to flee their homes and farms, while disrupting air travel as far away as Buenos Aires.
“The volcano remains unstable, and eruptions, principally ash, will continue for now,” the National Geology and Mining Service said in its latest report.
Chilean authorities have declared a state of emergency, sent in the army and evacuated a 20-kilometer (12-mile) radius around Calbuco, which is located in Los Lagos, a region popular with tourists for its scenic mountain landscapes dotted with volcanoes and lakes with black-sand beaches.
Authorities ordered the preventive evacuation of some 2,000 people from three more towns at risk of flooding from snow and ice melting high in the mountains due to the volcano’s heat, bringing the total number of evacuees to around 6,500.
Additionally, about 300 farmers were affected by the eruption and authorities planned to evacuate about 4,000 sheep and cattle.
“I’m afraid and still thinking about leaving, but over the long-term, I would still return to my land,” said Carolina Bayern, who took refuge in a school in Puerto Varas with other evacuees.
Raul Rangel, who also was staying at the school, said he was no longer afraid of the volcano.
“I respect it,” he added. “My house collapsed, and everything is destroyed, and I feel such great sadness.”
– Spreading ash cloud –
The ash cloud, meanwhile continued to drift eastward over Patagonia and Argentina, reaching Buenos Aires 2,000 kilometers away, where some airlines cancelled flights to and from the United States and Europe.
In Santiago, domestic flights operated normally but some international flights were cancelled.
Three flights were scrapped at Montevideo’s Carrasco International Airport, and authorities urged people to use face masks to avoid inhaling ash particles.
– Land blanketed in gray –
Southern Chile’s verdant landscape, meanwhile, has turned turned gray as ash has settled over vast expanses of farm land, especially in the immediate disaster zone around the volcano.
“There are fields that will be unusable for a long time,” Agriculture Minister Carlos Furche told Radio Cooperativa.
The government said it is weighing whether to provide emergency payments to the hardest hit farmers.
On the other side of the security perimeter, the evacuation area was turned into a scattering of ghost towns blanketed with ash up to one meter (three feet) thick, an AFP photographer said.
In La Ensenada, a town of 1,500 people that was the first to be evacuated, workers used heavy trucks to plow the roads clear as a handful of residents ignored the evacuation order to shovel the ash and debris off their rooftops.
Experts have cautioned that a third eruption could still follow.
The 2,000-meter volcano last erupted in 1961 and showed light activity in 1972, according to official data.
It is the second volcano to erupt in Chile since March 3, when the Villarrica volcano emitted a brief but fiery burst of ash and lava.
Chile has about 90 active volcanoes.
The long, thin country has been hit by a series of natural disasters in recent months, from flooding in its usually arid north, home to the world’s driest desert, to wildfires in its drought-hit southern forests.