Anger, defiance as Chile abandons volcano-hit town

Thu Feb 26, 2009 3:56pm EST
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Simon Gardner

CHAITEN, Chile (Reuters) - Hostel owner Rita Gutierrez Vargas would rather run the risk of being incinerated by another volcanic eruption than leave the Chilean town where she has spent her entire life.

Her mud-caked, ash-smothered town of Chaiten deep in Chile's southern Patagonia region was devastated after a spectacular eruption last year, and is still at risk as the nearby volcano of the same name continues to belch a vast column of ash and gas.

There is no running water, no electricity, most of Chaiten is a ghost town and there are sporadic earth tremors. But Vargas, 51, and a clutch of fellow holdouts vow to stay put, and reject a government plan to write off Chaiten and rebuild from scratch a few miles (km) north.

"Fifty percent of Chaiten is still alive, the government cannot kill it," Vargas said, gesturing at intact buildings as she and a dozen other residents gathered in a town square to protest the resettlement plan announced on Wednesday.

"I'm not afraid of the volcano. It lived with us for many years, now we are adapting to living with it," added Vargas, who has draped a Chilean flag on her hostel's facade and a sign rejecting the resettlement plan.

Nearby, houses and cars remain mired in debris after the volcano erupted last May for the first time in thousands of years, sending ash as high as 20 miles into the stratosphere and coating towns in neighboring Argentina.

No one was killed in the eruption, but one person died of a heart attack while being evacuated.

Dogs and horses still roam free after most of the town's 5,600 residents left months ago to live in shelters and with friends and relatives. Just under 100 people remain in Chaiten, residents say.   Continued...

<p>Residents of Chaiten show the inverted flag of Chile during a protest against the government of Bachelet in Chaiten town, located some 1,220 km (758 miles) south of Santiago February 26, 2009. REUTERS/Victor Ruiz Caballero</p>