Santiago: An erupting Chilean
volcano sent a towering plume of ash across South America, forcing thousands from their homes, grounding airline flights
in southern Argentina and coating ski resorts with a gritty
layer of dust instead of snow.
Booming explosions echoed across the Andes as toxic
gases belched up from a three-mile-long fissure in the
Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic complex yesterday - a ridge
between two craters just west of the Chilean-Argentine border
that began erupting Saturday.
Winds blew a six-mile-high cloud of ash all the way to the Atlantic Ocean and even into southern Buenos Aires province, hundreds of miles to the northeast.
Authorities in Chile went house to house, trying to
persuade stragglers near the volcano to leave because of an
increasing danger of toxic gas and flash floods.
By yesterday, about 4,000 people had been evacuated
from more than 22 communities.
They began fleeing as swarms of earthquakes Saturday
heralded the eruption and hundreds more fled yesterday to
shelters farther away.
Some refused to leave, wanting to protect their homes
Chile`s verdant lakes region is a center for dairy
farming, with more than 9,000 cows and sheep.
Deputy Interior Minister Rodrigo Ubilla said about 50
families in the Rininahue area refused to abandon their homes.
"Everything is prepared with shelter and
transportation for them to immediately leave the danger zone,"
added Vicente Nunez, director of Chile`s emergency
preparedness office, urging them to leave.
Just north of the complex of volcanoes, the city of
Futrono and the communities of Lago Ranco and Entre Rios were
particularly vulnerable to flash floods.