Chile volcano erupts, spits towering ash column

Sat Jun 4, 2011 6:18pm EDT
 

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - A volcano dormant for decades erupted in south-central Chile Saturday, belching ash over 6 miles into the sky and prompting the government to evacuate several thousand residents, authorities said.

Winds fanned the ash toward neighboring Argentina, darkening the sky in the ski resort city of San Carlos de Bariloche, a government official there said, adding the city's airport had been closed.

The eruption in the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic chain, about 575 miles south of the capital, Santiago, also prompted Chilean authorities to shut a heavily traveled border crossing into Argentina.

It was not immediately clear which of the chain's four volcanoes had erupted because of ash cover and weather conditions. The chain last saw a major eruption in 1960. Local media said the smell of sulfur hung in the air and there was constant seismic activity.

"The Cordon Caulle (volcanic range) has entered an eruptive process, with an explosion resulting in a 10-kilometre-high gas column," state emergency office ONEMI said. The government said it was evacuating 3,500 people from the surrounding area as a precaution.

It was the latest in a series of volcanic eruptions in Chile in recent years. Chile's Chaiten volcano erupted spectacularly in 2008 for the first time in thousands of years, spewing molten rock and a vast cloud of ash that reached the stratosphere. The ash also swelled a nearby river and ravaged a nearby town of the same name.

The ash cloud from Chaiten coated towns in Argentina and was visible from space.

Chile's Llaima volcano, one of South America's most active, erupted in 2008 and 2009.

Chile's chain of about 2,000 volcanoes is the world's second largest after Indonesia. Some 50 to 60 are on record as having erupted, and 500 are potentially active.

(Reporting by Felipe Iturrieta and Antonio de la Jara; Writing by Simon Gardner; Editing by Peter Cooney)

 
<p>Smoke and ash billowing from Puyehue volcano is seen near Osorno city in southern Chile June 4, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Gutierrez</p>