June 6, 2011

Ash Cloud Over Chile Affecting Farms, Air Traffic

The Puyehu volcano in southern Chile continues to erupt for a second day, spewing pumice and an ash cloud six miles high and three miles wide.

Airline flights have been canceled in the region and more than 3,500 people stayed away from their homes near the volcano.

Most of the residents in 22 settlements near the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic complex evacuated when the eruption began Saturday afternoon and were staying in government shelters or friends' homes. One group of 122 people was being moved from a shelter for fear that the eruption could cause flooding on the Nilahue River.

"This change means that we will have ash falling in the area, with damage to the population and a threat to small farmers," Lago Ranco Mayor Santiago Rosas told the AFP news agency.

The volcano, located in the Andes 7,350 feet above the sea level, appeared to have quieted down by Sunday, though Chile's Office of National Emergencies (ONEMI) said it was experiencing a "moderate" level of erupting.

The last time the volcanoe came to life was in 1960 when it was awoken following a magnitude 9.5 earthquake. The eruption forced the nearby Argentine resort town of Bariloche, population 50,000, to declare a state of emergency on Saturday and close down its airport.

Bariloche, located about 62 miles east of the volcano, was covered in a sooty blanket of several inches thick and remained under a state of emergency.

A major border crossing point was closed due to low visibility, and dropped ash on the upscale Argentine resort town of Villa La Angostura. The picturesque town, as well as others in the vicinity, sees thousands of foreign tourists each year to enjoy its lakes and mountain scenery, as well as ski resorts in the winter months.

With 500 active volcanoes out of a total of 3,000 in the country, Chile is well versed in reacting to the troublesome activity. Sixty volcanoes have erupted in the past half century.

In 2008 the eruption of Chaiten volcano, spread a thick cloud of ash reaching across South America, grounding flights across the region. Ash from that eruption drifted east as far as the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires.


Image Caption: Image from NASA's Aqua satellite showing the heavy ashen cloud on June 4, 2011.