A VOLCANO has erupted for the first time in more than 42 years, billowing a huge ash cloud over a sparsely populated, mountainous area in southern Chile.
Authorities ordered the evacuation of the 1,500 inhabitants of the town of Ensenada, along with residents of two smaller communities.
The National Mining and Geology Service issued a high alert, barring access to the area around the Calbuco volcano, which lies near the cities of Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt, a little more than 620 miles south of Chile’s capital, Santiago.
“For us, it was a surprise,” Alejandro Verges, regional emergency director of the Los Lagos region, where the eruption took place, said.
He said Calbuco had not been under any special form of observation.
Authorities said a large amount of ash had been observed but no hot rocks or lava were seen by late in the day. No injuries were reported.
This is clearly a much larger eruption than the one we saw with the VillaricaSecurity minister Rodrigo Penailillo
The education ministry cancelled school in communities near the volcano and at least three flights to Puerto Montt were cancelled.
The 6,500ft Calbuco last erupted in 1972 and is considered one of the top three most potentially dangerous among Chile’s 90 active volcanos.
This was southern Chile’s second volcanic eruption in as many months.
Last month, Villarica, one of South America’s most active volcanos, erupted in southern Chile in the early hours of the morning, spewing heavy smoke into the air as lava surged down its slopes and forcing authorities to evacuate thousands of people.
The 9,000ft volcano sits above the small city of Pucon. Tourists flock there for outdoor activities, including hiking around the volcano.
The authorities say the latest eruption is more serious.
“This is clearly a much larger eruption than the one we saw with the Villarica some weeks ago and therefore we need to take bigger and faster measures,” interior and security minister Rodrigo Penailillo said.
He said the government was sending water in case resources get contaminated by ash and that police and military officers had been deployed to ensure safety and help with evacuations.
Gervoy Paredes, mayor of the town of Puerto Varas, which was also under a state of alert, said residents had been “very, very frightened”. One local woman said: “I had never seen this before. It scares you in the beginning. You start to wonder what is going to happen to you.
“Everyone starts to think about gathering water and I don’t know what.
“We got together with the neighbours to see what we would do and wait for news over the radio because we knew that they were evacuating Ensenada and other places near the volcano.”
Argentina put emergency measures in place for the city of Bariloche, about 60 miles from Calbuco. Residents there have been warned to stay indoors.
Chile has the second largest chain of volcanoes in the world after Indonesia, with about 500 potentially active.