SANTIAGO – A total of 6,400 people have been forced to leave their homes because of the activity of Chile’s Calbuco volcano, which erupted two days ago for the first time in 42 years.
Authorities ordered the immediate evacuation Friday afternoon of 2,000 people from three towns in the Los Lagos region, after another 4,400 were displaced over the previous two days.
What prompted this new evacuation was that technicians of the National Geology and Mining Service, known as Sernageomin, have detected the presence of a flow of lava and water on the Rio Correntoso side of the volcano that could cause the river to overflow and flood the nearby populated areas.
Evacuees will be temporarily lodged in three schools that have been fitted out as shelters in the neighboring city of Puerto Montt, Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo said.
Peñailillo will travel Saturday to the area hit by the eruption, where, according to President Michelle Bachelet, he will stay as long as necessary to coordinate emergency measures and provide help for the local population.
Several other Cabinet ministers are already on the scene in the area, 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) south of Santiago.
Over the past few hours there have been some 1,600 seismic movements due to the activity of the volcano, which rises 2,015 meters (6,607 feet) above sea level.
The presence of lava in the Rio Correntoso indicates an immediate risk of overflowing and the flooding of populated areas, Los Lagos Gov. Nofal Abud said.
“It cannot be disregarded that in the coming hours we could have a new eruption, probably not at the same energy level as those we’ve had, but we maintain a red alert in a complex situation,” said the director of Sernageomin, Rodrigo Alvarez.
Ash from the Calbuco volcano have stained the surrounding areas grey and has continued advancing northwards toward the regions of Bio Bio, Maule, O’Higgins and Valparaiso, the later some 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Santiago.
Ash from the eruption also darkened skies in southwestern Argentina and reached Uruguay on Friday morning, where airline flights had been suspended.
Despite the ash, Chilean airlines Lan and Sky announced that they were renewing flights on Friday to and from Puerto Montt.
Bachelet traveled Thursday to the affected area to see the impact of the volcanic ash on agriculture and livestock, and to visit the displaced persons.