Southern Chile's Calbuco volcano erupted on Wednesday for the first time in nearly half a century, spewing a giant funnel of ash high into the sky and prompting authorities to declare a state of emergency. Airlines cancelled flights as ash cloud rose from Calbuco's snowy peak. Officials ordered an evacuation for a 20-kilometer radius around the volcano. Schools also suspended classes for the region.
The Interior ministry rushed in the army to temporarily take control of the province of Llanquihue and the town of Puerto Octay.
Television images showed large traffic jams and long lines at gas stations in Puerto Montt.
Gabriel Orozco, a volcanologist at the National Geology and Mines Service, said the 10-kilometer-high ash cloud risked collapsing, and warned: “River beds are very dangerous at the moment” because of the risk of ice and snow melting and causing floods.
The 2,000-meter volcano is located in the Los Lagos region, some 1,400 kilometers south of the capital Santiago.
It is the second volcano in southern Chile to have a substantial eruption since March 3, when the Villarrica volcano emitted a brief but fiery burst of ash and lava. That eruption caused authorities to evacuate more than 3,500 people.
No lava was seen in the latest eruption, but the ash cloud, which could be seen from 20 kilometers away, loomed over the crater, turning hues of pink and yellow as the sun set over the area. Chile has about 90 active volcanoes, of which Calbuco is considered one of the most dangerous.