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Chaitén: news update 8 May 2008

Posted by admin in Chaitén, Chile, eruptions, volcano culture.
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The Chaitén eruption continues to interest the international media. Here’s some of the latest from various English-language sources.

The BBC reports that ‘There have been reports of further activity in the Chaiten volcano in Chile, which began erupting on Friday for the first time in some 9,000 years’, the activity in question being that reported over the night of 7/8 May by Chilean Army personnel in Chaitén. The BBC quotes ‘a government vulcano [sic] expert’ as warning that ‘there could be a major eruption at any time’.

Reuters, which carried the early reports of the overnight activity, reports on the evacuation of remaining personnel from Chaitén: ‘Three civilians had been holding out’ in the town, they say, but the implication is that they’ve been moved out now. More experts feature, making gloomy predictions: ‘Experts believe the volcano could continue belching out vast clouds of ash for months, and say it could rumble on for years’.

Uruguay’s Mercopress news agency, in a story written before the latest surge in the volcano’s activity, reports on the vast extent of Chaitén’s ash deposits: ‘Ash from the erupting Chaiten volcano in Chilean Patagonia has continued to advance into Argentina and the Southern Atlantic Ocean blanketing the city of Bahia Blanca (800 kilometers south of Buenos Aires City) and adjacent areas in the south of the province of Buenos Aires’. The ash is affecting air travel across the Southern Cone: ‘flights from Buenos Aires were cancelled to most of the major southern Argentine cities because of ash in the air’.

Bloomberg Latin America reports that the evacuations around Chaitén have affected over 4000 people, and that 13000 cattle have been left behind and are receiving attention from Ministry of Agriculture veterinarians. ‘The process of deterioration of livestock is progressive and takes several days or even weeks’ Bloomberg quotes the Minister of Agriculture as saying. ‘We are not seeing massive deaths of livestock. There are only a few specific cases’. The report also quotes from the latest SERNAGEOMIN bulletin on the volcano’s possible future behaviour: ‘The [eruption] plume could collapse or the volcano’s dome may explode, generating a pyroclastic flow of superheated gases that would kill everything in its path, Chile’s National Geology Service said on its Web site’. Hmm. A case of journalistic over-excitement, I think. The statement in question certainly talks about the possibility of a pyroclastic flow, but the bit about ‘would kill everything in its path’ is nowhere to be seen in the original text: ‘Existe la posibilidad que se produzca un colapso de la columna eruptiva y/o del domo riolítico, lo cual generaría flujos piroclásticos.’

Returning to the subject of the animals affected by the eruption and the evacuation, The Montreal Gazette reports that vets have been doing their best to rescue and care for abandoned pets and other animals in and around Chaitén: ‘Armed with cans of food, the vets scoured the town as the volcano spewed ash for a sixth day yesterday in its first eruption in thousands of years’.

Meanwhile, the BBC reports on an unusual aspect of the eruption. An Eisteddfod at Trevelin, one of the Welsh communities of Patagonia, has been disrupted – but not cancelled – by the blanket of volcanic ash that has fallen across southern Argentina: Gill Stephen, a teacher at Ysgol Gymraeg Esquel a Trevelin (Esquel and Trevelin Welsh School), said: ‘They’ve called it the Eisteddfod of the Dust, which is different to our own dusty eisteddfodau in Wales. It was pretty funny actually because one of the choirs couldn’t get there, and there was an announcement from the stage that the choir wouldn’t be singing because there was too much volcanic ash on the road, and I thought that wasn’t something which happens in Wales’. If you want to know what an eisteddfod is, the National Museum Wales has the story.

The Volcanism Blog

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