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Chaitén town to be abandoned, Chilean Government confirms 29 January 2009

Posted by admin in Chaitén, Chile.
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[Updated 30 January 2009] The town of Chaitén is to be abandoned. The Chilean Government’s decision not to attempt any rehabilitation of Chaitén, devastated by the eruption of its namesake volcano which began in May 2008, has been confirmed today [29 January 2009] by Interior Minister Edmundo Pérez Yoma and the national office for emergencies, ONEMI.

The provincial capital and all related public services will be moved from Chaitén to Futaleufú from March, and all public spending on housing and public works in the Chaitén area will cease. The displaced inhabitants of Chaitén will be relocated to a new site, yet to be determined, and will be compensated for property lost and abandoned at their former homes.

‘We will not invest public resources in a city that should not be where it is’. With these words the Interior Minister, Edmundo Pérez Yoma, categorically ruled out yesterday the reconstruction of Chaitén in the place where it is today … Pérez Yoma was initially in favour of rebuilding in the same place. On this occasion he was categorical in stating that such an option today is absolutely unviable because of the continuing volcanic danger that exists in the area, according to the conclusions of various technical reports. ‘The duty of the Government is to safeguard the people’s security and lives’, he explained. He added an assurance that the relocation will provide all the guarantees of habitability, housing, opportunities for economic development and reliable sources of work of all the chaiteninos. [Source: La Nación]

The decision has been criticized by some former Chaitén residents and their political representatives, who argue that adequate investment in reconstruction and flood defence works would make their town viable on its present site, and complain that the Government has not listened to their views.

The alcalde [mayor] of Chaitén, Pedro Vásquez, reaffirmed his rejection of the city not being reconstructed in the same place where it was … ‘We did not expect so strong a blow from the Government. We who live there have not been listened to through citizen participation, so the people are very much upset by this very radical decision’, lamented the community leader. [Source: Radio Cooperativa]

Vásquez also makes the perhaps rather surprising claim that 250 people have returned to Chaitén and are living in the less damaged northern part of the town, where the municipal authorities are working to re-establish power and water supplies. The Interior Minister has said there are about 100 people living in the town, and that while the Government has no intention of compelling them to leave (even though it does have the legal authority) it will not be doing anything to support their remaining there, given its decision to abandon Chaitén permanently.

There has also been criticism of the long time the Government has taken over reaching this decision, of the Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet, for not making the announcement herself but leaving it to her Interior Minister to face the people of Chaitén, and of the complexity and expense of the planned relocation.

After hearing the details, families displaced from Chaitén were hurt and disappointed by the decision. The intendente [regional governor] of Los Lagos Region said that ‘the decision is risky and very complicated, especially if it is all going to happen overnight.’ … ‘With this all our hopes have been brought to an end. It is risky to live here, but in Chaitén we lived free’, said one woman who had to leave the town because of the eruption of the volcano. [Source: 123 Chile]

Sergio Galilea was claiming Chaitén could be re-occupied long after it was clear that any such thing was out of the question, telling Government ministers who called the place ‘uninhabitable’ that they didn’t know what they were talking about and asserting that the rebuilt town could be ‘like Venice’. If the former inhabitants of the town are bitterly disappointed by the Government’s decision the responsibility is surely partly his, and that of the present alcalde of Chaitén and his predecessor, for falsely raising their hopes.

As for the Chilean Government’s approach to deciding Chaitén’s future, it has indeed been characterized by indecisiveness and delay. Even now, the Government does not expect to announce the location of the new Chaitén for another seven or eight months, meaning another lengthy period in limbo for the former inhabitants of the town. The report from the Universidad Católica de Chile on options for the future of the town of Chaitén (upon which the decision not to rebuild is partly based) identified two possible sites, Santa Bárbara and Bahía Pumalín. The Pumalín option would appear to be the Government’s favoured choice.

For all our Chaitén coverage: Chaitén « The Volcanism Blog.

Gobierno reconstruirá Chaitén en otra localidad; Futaleufú será la capital de la provincia de PalenaLa Segunda, 29 January 2009
Estudios Universitarios Avalan la Decisión de La Moneda – Chile.com, 29 January 2009
Onemi ratifica que ubicación actual de Chaitén no es habitableEl Mercurio, 29 January 2009
Chile to relocate volcano-destroyed town – Associated Press, 29 January 2009
Chile’s Chaitén to be relocatedPatagonia Times, 29 January 2009
Government says it will not invest resources to rebuild Chaitén in the same placeEl Mercurio (English), 29 January 2009
Gobierno no reconstruirá Chaitén y prepara relocalizaciónLa Nación, 30 January 2009
Alcalde de Chaitén: No esperábamos un golpe tan fuerte del Gobierno – Radio Cooperativa, 30 January 2009
Descontento entre chaiteninos por decisión del Gobierno – 123 Chile, 30 January 2009

Global Volcanism Program: Chaitén – summary information for Chaitén (1508-41)
ONEMI, Oficina Nacional de Emergencia – Chilean government emergencies office (Spanish)
SERNAGEOMIN – Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería (Spanish)
Erupción del Volcán Chaitén – extensive coverage of the Chaitén eruption

The Volcanism Blog


1. Thomas Donlon - 29 January 2009

Chaiten has now been erupting for close to a year. There is no indication that Chaiten is about to become dormant or that it will be safe to resettle in our lifetime.

It will certainly be a long time before any reconstruction of the present Chaiten could begin. The old Chaiten is gone.

2. aldo - 30 January 2009

Hi Ralph, I don’t understand the Minister of Interior: how many cities in Chile are on high volcanic risk?

3. aldo - 31 January 2009

For example, read this note:


Many chilean cities are under volcanic risk

4. volcanism - 31 January 2009

Thanks for that link, Aldo. In most cases living alongside volcanoes will mean better monitoring, public communication, early warning and so on. Clearly not all cities with high volcanic risk will be moved; the choice made in most cases (as the abstract you link to argues) will be to live with and manage the risk. As for, Chaiten the volcano has made the decision for the government by erupting, destroying the town, and clearly continuing to pose a real and present danger.

Having read your post on Chaiten I can see what your concern is .. there is no volcanic risk map for Chile, so the extent of urban areas at high volcanic risk isn’t known. This is not a good basis for decision making.

5. aldo - 1 February 2009

Ralph, it’somehow stange that I talk about Chilean volcanoes when in Italy we have a very dangerous volcano above one of the most populated areas of the nation… read: http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Vesuvius_volcano_still_very_dangerous_geologist_999.html

However, we have the risk maps, but we don’t know how to use them….

And deep in the Tyrrenian sea there is a very great (and active) volcano, the Marsili Mount. Currently, there is not any continous monitoring system for this volcano. But an actice volcano deep in the sea is important for tsunami warnings too… what can happend if it explodes (and Marsili is a volcanic-arc volcano….)?
(I posted about it last year)

6. Volcanism and society: What to do about Chaiten « Eruptions - 23 February 2009

[…] town of Chaiten (above). Yet even after all this and even after the government has announced that Chaiten (the town) will not be rebuilt, people will not leave. The Chilean government has told the last 200 residents of Chaiten that they […]

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