Evacuation Ordered as Chilean Volcano Begins to Spew Ash

By | May 7, 2008

The Chaitén volcano in southern Chile blasted ash and what appeared to be lava a dozen miles into the air on Tuesday, leading the government to order the immediate and complete evacuation of everyone living within a 30-mile radius of it.

Preceded by dozens of tremors, the volcano — until now considered inactive — began erupting last Friday. It covered about 60 square miles with more than 15 inches of ash, rendering the air unbreathable, contaminating water sources, killing livestock and destroying all small- and medium-scale agriculture in this rural and mostly impoverished area 800 miles south of the capital, Santiago.

An enormous gray mushroom cloud of ash that could be seen from 100 miles away has since loomed over this sliver of land next to Argentina, where continental Chile breaks up into archipelagos. East winds have spread ash toward Argentina. The thick layer of volcanic ash, coupled with rain, has made access to the sparsely populated border zone difficult.

President Michelle Bachelet visited the area on Monday, announcing subsidies and other aid for affected families. On Tuesday, she convened an emergency committee of government ministers, emergency agency representatives, the director of the police force and regional officials.

The committee resolved to order the total evacuation of Chaitén, to authorize the release of emergency funds and to appoint Defense Minister José Goñi to coordinate the response to the natural disaster. – nyt

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