Smoke and ash shot more than six miles into the the sky when the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano complex in southern Chile first erupted Saturday afternoon. Authorities evacuated about 3,500 people from the area, the state emergency office said.
“I ask all the population (in designated areas) to evacuate as soon as possible, because … human life could be at risk,” said Juan Andres Varas, regional governor of Los Rios, Chile.
In a statement posted on the Los Rios government’s website Monday, he said volcanic material and potentially toxic gases were slowly advancing toward the nearby Nilahue Valley.
“Fortunately, the valley doesn’t drop abruptly, so we have time to evacuate,” he said.
Schools in some cities and rural areas in neighboring Argentina were closed Monday, even as the volcanic activity appeared to have diminished, the state-run Telam news agency said.
Eastward wind gusts have left a layer of ashes up to 30 centimeters (12 inches) on an Argentinian highway, Telam reported. Ashes had reached the country’s Atlantic coast by early Sunday.
By Monday, several centimeters of ashes were beginning to accumulate in areas further north, and authorities told Telam the volcano’s impact was difficult to predict.
“We still don’t know, because it depends on the wind how it will continue. … The recommendation to the population is that they stay inside,” said Eduardo Munos, municipal civil defense director in Junin de los Andes, Argentina.
Chile is located on the so-called “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines circling the Pacific Basin that is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.