Ash from Calbuco volcano eruption cancels flights, raises health concerns
Flights from tourist towns Puerto Montt, Chile, and Bariloche, Argentina, cancelled
An ash cloud from the Calbuco volcano in southern Chile that erupted unexpectedly on Wednesday was blowing into Chile and Argentina on Thursday, forcing the cancellation of flights from nearby cities in both countries and blanketing residents in ash.
The volcano, which last had a major eruption in 1961, has belched a spectacular plume of ash and smoke around 15 kilometres into the sky near the popular tourist town of Puerto Varas, some 1,000 kilometres south of Santiago.
Winds have already carried part of the ash cloud to the city of Chillan, some 400 kilometres south of Santiago, and could reach the capital by the end of the day, said government meteorologist Arnoldo Zuniga.
Most of the ash, however, was headed over the Andes mountains into neighbouring Argentina.
"We don't rule out that the cloud could reach part of Buenos Aires over the next 48 to 72 hours," said Zuniga.
Volcanic ash can damage aircraft and makes flying dangerous. In 2011, the eruption of Chile's Puyehue volcano sent ash high into the atmosphere, leading to flight cancellations as far away as Australia.
In Argentina, Bariloche and Neuquen airports were shut. Flights by LAN Argentina, state-owned Aerolineas Argentinas and Lade, owned by the Argentine Air Force, were affected.
Calbuco erupted twice over the last 24 hours and has now paused, but it remains unstable and could erupt again, experts said.
"We woke up today with a blanket of fog and it hasn't cleared. We have a layer of smoke above us," said Daniel Palma, 30, a psychologist who lives in Puerto Varas, told The Associated Press.
The Associated Press reported that President Michelle Bachelet declared a state of emergency, saying the eruption of Calbuco is "more serious and unpredictable" than the one last month at the Villarica volcano, which also forced the evacuation of thousands.
The Chilean national geology and mining service warned that residents should prepare for an imminent third, and "even more aggressive eruption," the AP reported.
With files from The Associated Press