Chile Forces Volcano Evacuation After Hot-Rock Eruption

Eduardo Gallardo in Santiago, Chile
Associated Press
May 9, 2008

Police and soldiers cleared the last remaining people from the shadow of a Chilean volcano on Thursday after a strong, overnight explosion spewed glowing-hot rocks from its crater.

The week-old eruption at the Chaitén volcano has scattered ash across a wide swath of South America, closing regional airports and driving more than 7,000 people from their homes.

(PHOTOS: Chile Volcano Erupts With Ash and Lightning.)

Volcanologist Luis Lara warned things could get worse.

"The worst that could happen is that the seismic activity begins to increase, the explosions become greater, and large domes form that could collapse and produce pyroclastic flows," said Lara, an expert with the government's Geological and Mining Service.

Pyroclastic flows are blasts of low-lying toxic volcanic gas, ash, and cinders that can move at great speed, destroying everything in their paths.

Armed with a court order for people to leave an area within a 30-mile (50-kilometer) radius of the mountain, authorities forcibly removed about 130 holdouts, mostly small farmers, who had refused to abandon their livestock.

Defense Minister Jose Goni said the government requested the court order "because the danger is clear, as the volcano remains very active."

Hot Rocks

Geologists reported that explosions around midnight on Wednesday hurled hot rock from the volcano.

On Thursday, Argentina's weather service said volcanic ash had reached the capital of Buenos Aires and was turning the sky "a grayish color," but not coating the ground.

Such conditions were expected to persist there and in several southern provinces.

Two Argentine airlines, Austral and Aerolíneas Argentinas, canceled flights in a half dozen cities as drifting ash and smoke obscured visibility.

Chile's government said it has earmarked some U.S. $10.6 million in initial disaster funds to help victims in the coming month. Officials are also helping to move hundreds of head of livestock from the disaster zone, and promise to compensate farmers for animals that are killed.

(See photos of animals at risk near the volcano.)

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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