SANTIAGO – Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has declared a “State of Exception” in Llanquihue Province and Puerto Octay after the eruption of the Calbuco volcano on Wednesday.
The declaration places the areas under the authority of the Chilean military.
Under the order issued Thursday, the military will assist in evacuation from within a 20-kilometer (12.4 mile) radius of the mountain considered an “immediate exclusion zone.”
A curfew was declared late Wednesday in Puerto Montt, Puerto Varas and Puerto Octay to prevent potential looting of hundreds of houses, supermarkets and gas stations vacated under the decree.
Regional authorities have suspended school until further notice.
Authorities have also declared a red alert in Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt due to the unexpected eruption of the volcano, quiet for 43 years.
According to the interior ministry, more than 4,000 people have already been evacuated from the towns of Ensenada, Alerce, Colonio Rio Sur and Correntoso in Los Lagos, where more than 60,000 people have been affected by the volcano.
Authorities have also issued a health alert in the provinces of Llanquihue and Osorno, and shut schools in Los Labos.
Clouds of smoke and ash to the north of the volcano have reduced visibility to practically zero, so evacuations commenced from the south of the volcano, the interior minister told reporters.
Ensenada had been almost completely evacuated by Thursday afternoon.
Authorities are considering measures to supply water and shelter to the displaced.
Calbuco volcano, located some 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) south of Santiago and 2,015 meters (6610 feet) above sea level, is about 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) from peripheries of major cities Ensenada, Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt.
Inactive since 1972, the volcano is considered dangerous by geologists because of its destructive potential.
The National Geology and Mining Service, or Sernageomin, recorded an increase in seismic activity in the volcano on April 19.
Calbuco volcano is close to Villarrica, a volcano the eruption of which on March 3 forced nearly 4,000 people to be evacuated.
Calbuco is considered more powerful than Villarrica and one of the three most dangerous of Chile’s 90 active volcanoes.