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Page last updated at 20:35 GMT, Tuesday, 6 May 2008 21:35 UK

Chile eruption spurs evacuations

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Volcano spewing clouds of ash

Authorities in Chile have ordered the complete evacuation of two towns after a volcano erupting nearby increased its activity, spewing out ash.

Chaiten volcano in the Patagonia region began erupting on Friday for the first time in more than 9,000 years.

Ash from the volcano has caused disruption in neighbouring Argentina.

Sitting on the edge of the South American and Nazca tectonic plates, Chile is in one of the most volcanically-active regions on Earth.

Experts say about 20 of its more than 100 active volcanoes are in danger of erupting at any time.

'Molten rock'

More than 4,000 people left the town of Chaiten, 10km (six miles) from the volcano, after the initial eruption. Several hundred are still waiting to leave.

Chile map

Chilean naval vessels are helping people leave the isolated region.

Futaleufu, 70km (44 miles) to the east, is also being evacuated.

A huge column of smoke and ash has risen high into the sky, coating the area surrounding the volcano and reaching into neighbouring Argentina.

Chilean officials said molten rock was being thrown from the volcano but that no lava flows had been detected.

Rodrigo Rojas of the National Emergency Office said the situation had deteriorated suddenly.

"Today the volcano is erupting with pyroclastic material [of hot ash and gas] on a different scale," he told Reuters news agency.

"We... have ordered the immediate precautionary evacuation of all civilians, military and press in Chaiten."

A government vulcanologist warned there could be a big eruption at any time.

"There could be a major explosion that could collapse the volcano's cone," said Luis Lara of the National Geologic and Mining Service.




SEE ALSO
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