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Chaitén: tourists flood in, despite red alert 18 February 2010

Posted by admin in activity reports, Chaitén, Chile, volcano monitoring, volcano tourism.
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The Chilean state emergencies office ONEMI has felt the need to remind everyone that Chaitén volcano in southern Chile is still dangerous and on red alert. Recently activity at Chaitén had appeared to be in decline, but in a bulletin issued on 15 February 2010 ONEMI notes that ‘although seismic activity has declined overall in recent months’ there was an increase in the number of events recorded during the period 21 January to 5 February (as reported in SERNAGEOMIN’s bulletin for that period) and warns that the continuing seismic activity around the volcano and constant gas emissions and incandescence at the dome suggest that ‘the volcanic system retains a high degree of instability’, and that the danger of collapses, explosions and debris flows remains, meaning that red alert still applies to Chaitén.

This reminder that Chaitén remains dangerous may have been at least partly provoked by an influx of tourists, both Chilean and foreign, to the area. The officially abandoned town of Chaitén seems to have been playing host to large numbers of visitors. ‘All the [tourist] cabins are open, and other hotels as well. It’s surprising how many gringos are walking the streets’, says one local. Another dismisses the red alert warning as ‘a lie told by the Government … there has been no shaking, and there is nothing stopping people coming’. The pressure group ‘Hijos y Amigos de Chaitén’ (sons and friends of Chaitén) also attacked the Government for issuing the warnings: ‘The situation is completely normal today. There are no tremors, no fumaroles, ONEMI is lying’, says the group’s chairwoman, Rita Gutiérrez. Local councillor Bernardo Riquelme claims that a group of tourists have recently climbed the volcano and encountered neither tremors nor emissions. La Tercera reports that visitors to Chaitén are up by 50% on this time last year: ‘There is no light and no drinking water, but this does not prevent the flow of visitors that has increased in the last few months’.

In neighbouring Argentina there is anger at the ‘alarmist’ nature of some of the Argentinian press reporting of the Chaitén (and Llaima) warnings. The Patagonian paper Diario El Chubut reports the comments of one ‘visibly annoyed’ Environment Ministry official in Esquel who criticizes uncritical and sensationalist reporting by the press ‘who wanted to report something much more catastrophic than the reality’. The national press in Argentina, he complains, failed to communicate with either the Chilean or the Argentinian authorities, and put out distorted and alarmist reports based on their misunderstandings of the information released in Chile: ‘These are … technical reports intended for technicians, and it often happens that these reports come into the hands of untrained people who end up distorting the information’.

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

Arribo de turistas chilenos y extranjeros a Chaitén crece 50%La Tercera, 9 February 2010
Chaitén recibe cientos de turistas – Publimetro, 16 February 2010
Residentes de Chaitén afirman que ‘no hay temblores ni fumaroles’ en la zona – Terra.cl, 16 February 2010
Critican a la prensa nacional por cobertura alarmista en torno al volcán ChaiténDiario El Chubut, 18 February 2010

Global Volcanism Program: Chaitén – summary information for Chaitén (1508-41)
SERNAGEOMIN – Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería
Erupción del Volcán Chaitén – extensive coverage of the Chaitén eruption

The Volcanism Blog


1. Sam - 26 February 2010

Vulcanologists know that about 5% of a given population will return and live in an area of destruction even if their lives are in jeopardy. The government is ultimately responsible for listening to the facts and placing the safety and security of people above any other gains.

The leaders of the group “Sons and Friends of Chaitén” are hardly authorities on earthquake safety. The Chaiteninos didn’t know they were sitting on a time bomb in May of 2008, so how do they know the situation is safe now? Can we trust the SAFETY OF TOURISTS to their gut instincts or scientists whose sole job it is to study and evaluate situations like this?

Human life and ultimately Chile’s Tourism industry are at stake.

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