Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Chile: Another volcano eruption causes evacuation!

Life near Chile's sporadically erupting, snow-capped Llaima volcano has become increasingly difficult for local residents, as eruptions have lead to a government imposed red alert evacuation for the second ski season in a row.

Residents like Eduardo Mendoza, who works at a nearby ski station, say the eruptions have interrupted their lives and made it more difficult to feed their families.

“People can't go to work because of the danger," he said, a cloud engulfing the majestic volcano behind him.

"Our source of work has been stopped and we depend on it to sustain our families. We can't go on like this," he added, showing a video clip on his mobile phone of the volcano spewing a jet of hot pyroclastic rock 1,300 feet into the air before dawn on Thursday.

The government this month ordered a 9-mile "red zone" around the 10,253-foot-high volcano, and has now evacuated around 60 people from nearby.

There is also a growing concern among residents that snow on the volcano's sides could melt, causing a nearby river to overflow and flood nearby communities.

The volcano erupted violently on New Year's Day, forcing the temporary evacuation of some tourists and residents from the surrounding Conguillio National Park. It belched ash and lava in February. Much of the park is off limits again.

Experts say they are unable to forecast the frequency of any future activity from Llaima.

"The activity is going up and down very fast," said Hugo Moreno, a geologist and volcano expert with state mining and geology service Sernageomin, who is based in the town of Melipeuco, on the fringe of the exclusion zone.

"It is oscillating, so it is very difficult to make a medium-term forecast," he added. "It will most likely continue to oscillate, until it stabilizes at some point."

Cycles have lasted anything from one minute to three years or more, Moreno said.

Agriculture Minister Marigen Hornkohl spoke to worried farmers in nearby Cherquenco, just 11 miles from the base of the volcano.

Farmers there are only allowed to tend to their animals two hours a day, which has raised concern for the animals’ well being.

"We have to take this one minute at a time," Hornkohl told residents and evacuees assembled in the rear of the local fire station. "Now, when we want to be able to go home, the worst thing we can do is to take the wrong decisions," she said.

Earlier this year, Chaiten volcano, 760 miles south of Santiago in Chilean Patagonia, erupted on May 2 for the first time in thousands of years, spewing ash, gas and molten rock.

Chile's chain of some 2,000 volcanoes is the world's second-largest after Indonesia's. Around 50 to 60 are recorded to have erupted, while 500 are deemed potentially active.

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