Evacuation as Chilean volcano starts to spew lava

Lava started to spew from the Chaitén volcano in southern Chile on Tuesday prompting authorities to order an immediate evacuation of all remaining residents in a nearby town.

The volcano, in Patagonia and about 1 200km south of the Chilean capital, Santiago, began erupting on Friday, sending a huge plume of ash into the sky that later coated the surrounding area and reached as far as Argentina.

Chile’s government ordered the evacuation from Chaitén, a town near the Gulf of Corcovado, about 10km away from the erupting volcano, and from Futaleufú, about 60km south-west of Chaitén.

The National Emergency Office said the volcano was spitting pieces of lava and rock, and that about 300 Chaitén residents and troops were being evacuated by boat across a fjord. Local television reports said loud groaning sounds had been heard from the vicinity of the 1 000m-high volcano.

Rodrigo Rojas, a national emergency official, said: “Today the volcano is erupting with pyroplastic material on a different scale. We ...
have ordered the immediate precautionary evacuation of all civilians, military and press in Chaitén.”

About 4 200 people had fled already from the town of Chaitén. But the evacuations are complicated by southern Chile’s terrain, the land being fragmented by fjords making access difficult.

“We hope the evacuation happens in an optimum way,” said Chile’s President, Michelle Bachelet, who visited the area on Monday. “I hope this evolves in the least harmful way possible.”

Luis Lara, a government geologist, said he did not expect a catastrophic collapse of the volcano, but added that a cloud of dense, very hot, material could coat the surrounding land.

He said: “This produces a more complicated scenario. A dense cloud of pyroplastic material could move down its slopes, and that causes much more damage [than a spray of lava]. The entire volcano will not [collapse], but the eruptive column could, and that is sufficient material to be displaced down its sides and into areas nearby. Lava flow would not reach Chaitén but hot fragments, ash and gas could.”

Officials had not yet detected any lava flow down the sides of the volcano.

In Futaleufú, which has also been coated with ash, some of the town’s 1 000 or so residents had crossed earlier into neighbouring Argentina, where some areas also have been showered with ash and where authorities last week closed schools and treated people for breathing problems following the eruption.

The ash is 15cm thick in places, and contaminating water supplies as well as coating houses, vehicles and trees. Thousands of cattle are being moved.

Chile has the world’s second-most active string of volcanoes behind Indonesia. - guardian.co.uk Â

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