Volcano's Deadly Ash Harming Stranded Animals in Chile

May 9, 2008

Tens of thousands of animals have been trapped under a blanket of deadly ash in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption in southern Chile.

The long-dormant Chaitén volcano began spewing an enormous plume of ash visible from space and scattered debris over towns and villages on May 2.

(See photos: "Chile Volcano Erupts With Ash and Lightning" [May 6, 2008].)

Residents within a 30-mile (50-kilometer) radius of the volcano were forced to evacuate the area, which includes Chaitén—the town nearest the volcano—as well as the Futaleufú Valley, a rural zone populated largely by small farmers. (See Chile map.)

On Thursday explosions of fiery rocks spewed from the mountain, spurring authorities to remove 130 holdouts from the region.

The holdouts were mostly farmers who would not leave their livestock behind, the Associated Press reported.

Also on Thursday officials from Chile's agriculture ministry informed National Geographic News that an estimated 15,331 head of cattle, 12,828 sheep, and 957 horses have been targeted for evacuation.

"These statistics are dynamic and could change according to new events that we are monitoring from the ground and satellite images," said a ministry official who is not authorized to speak to the press.

On Wednesday teams of veterinarians were dispatched to the area to help ranchers struggling to save their livestock, according to Chile's agriculture minister, Marigen Hornkohl.

Hornkohl promised support for farmers, including debt cancellation, evacuation support, and feedstock and medical supplies, an official bulletin said.

(See photos of animals and farms affected by the volcano.)

Agriculture officials reported that a thousand farmers live in the three communities—Palena, Futaleufú, and Chaitén—that were most impacted by the eruption.

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