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Chaitén: increased activity reported, Chilean Government orders total evacuation 6 May 2008

Posted by admin in activity reports, Chaitén, Chile, eruptions.
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AFP (quoting Chilean state television) is reporting that Chaitén volcano is showing increased activity this morning, including the production of lava, and that a maximum alert has been declared and the complete evacuation of Chaitén town ordered:

The activity of Chaitén volcano, in southern Chile, increased on Tuesday morning, with an intense projection (lanzamiento) of ash and lava, forcing the declaration of a high alert and the ordering of the total evacuation of the town of the same name, state television reports. The emergency sirens were activitated in the town, which is located at the foot of the mountain which began to erupt on Friday. Everyone who remained in place – some 200 – had to evacuate, including the press. In fact a journalist giving a live commentary on the situation for the state channel had to cut off the transmission abruptly.

The Chilean Government emergencies office ONEMI has issued a bulletin confirming that the total evacuation of Chaitén has been ordered because of the increasingly dangerous situation created by the eruption of Chaitén volcano. All who are currently still in the town of Chaitén, including emergency teams, journalists and the last few locals who refused to leave earlier (ONEMI’s total is 384 people), will be evacuated by sea. The official view is that the entire town is at risk from lava and pyroclastic flows from the volcano.

President Bachelet herself has also confirmed the order for total evacuation, reports El Mercurio, interrupting a speech in the capital, Santiago, to announce that the volcano had ‘exploded’ and that as ‘lava from the volcano would take only 20 minutes to reach the town’ a complete evacuation was essential. Coverage in La Nacion similarly makes the point that lava could reach the town very quickly, and quotes Chaitén mayor José Miguel Fritis’s dramatic description of his town as ‘una cosa dantesca’ – like something from Dante.

Radio Infinita says that a powerful eruption of Chaitén began at 08:00 local time today, producing a ‘toxic cloud’ that was visible from Puerto Montt, and that it was this eruption that provoked the order for an immediate and total evacuation.

UPDATE: since the above was posted ONEMI have issued a new bulletin giving more detail on the Chaitén evacuation. The order to evacuate followed a powerful eruption of the volcano: ‘The new eruption of the volcano with greater force, which began at approximately 08:45 today, generated a column of ash 30,000 metres high with varying grey coloration, implying a higher percentage of pyroclasts (incandescent material)’. The evacuation will involve five ships and other vessels and three helicopters, 46 soldiers and three army trucks. Meanwhile, the evacuation of Futaleufú, near the Argentine border, is proceeding as planned. Eight buses will be used to evacuate the remaining population of the town, which is currently suffering heavy ashfall, to the city of Osorno.

FURTHER UPDATE: When I posted the above only reports in Spanish from Chilean sources were available on the latest developments, but reports are now appearing in the English-language media. Reuters quotes ONEMI official Rodrigo Rojas as saying: ‘The situation has changed suddenly. Today the volcano is erupting with pyroplastic [sic] material on a different scale. We presume lava is flowing and so have ordered the immediate precautionary evacuation of all civilians, military and press in Chaitén’. The Associated Press gives the altitude of the eruption plume as 12 miles (20 kilometres) and also has Chaitén spewing lava, while the Press Association quotes ONEMI director Carmen Fernandez’s description of the lava as ‘very small and very thick, so it is moving very slowly’.

For all our Chaitén coverage: Chaitén << The Volcanism Blog

Global Volcanism Program: Chaitén – summary information for Chaitén (1508-41)
Oficina Nacional de Emergencia – Chilean government emergencies office (Spanish)
SERNAGEOMIN – volcanology information from the Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería, Chile (Spanish)

Alerta Máxima por una potente erupción del volcán Chaitén en Chile – AFP, 6 May 2008 (Spanish)
Bachelet espera que evacuación de Chaitén sea ‘óptima’El Mercurio, 6 May 2008 (Spanish)
Suenan sirenas en Chaitén para evacuación inmediataLa Nacion, 6 May 2008 (Spanish)
Potente Erupción del Volcán Chaitén Obliga a Evacuación Total del Lugar – Radio Infinita, 6 May 2008 (Spanish)
Emergency evacuation as Chile volcano spews lava – Reuters UK, 6 May 2008
Volcano in Chile spews lava and blasts ash 12 miles into sky – Associated Press, 6 May 2008
Erupting volcano prompts evacuation – Press Association, 6 May 2008
Chile eruption spurs evacuations – BBC News, 6 May 2008
Chile volcano erupts; evacuation ordered – AFP, 6 May 2008

 The Volcanism Blog