SANTIAGO, Chile — An erupting Chilean volcano sent a towering plume of ash across South America on Monday, forcing thousands from their homes, grounding airline flights in southern Argentina and coating ski resorts with a gritty layer of dust instead of snow.
Volcanic explosions echoed across the Andes as toxic gases erupted from a three-mile-long (five-kilometer long) fissure in the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic complex which is a ridge between two craters just west of the Chilean-Argentine border. The activity began this Saturday.
People were being asked to evacuate from more than 22 communities. Some refused and wanted to stay and protect their homes and livestock. “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.
Volcanic dust coated ski slopes above Villa la Angostura and San Carlos de Bariloche two weeks before the official start of the winter skiing season. The resorts’ trade group said it was too early to say how if this would affect the local economy and the ski season, however residents were told to stay indoors and tourists were asked not to come for now.
Lightning flashed in the volcanic clouds during the weekend (see picture above courtesy of Francisco Negroni, AgenciaUno/Associated Press ), and while the amount of ash falling east of the volcano subsided significantly Monday, experts say it is too early to predict when the volcano will fall silent.