SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — The long-dormant Chaiten volcano blasted ash some 20 miles (30 kilometers) into the Andean sky on Tuesday, forcing the last of thousands to evacuate and fouling a huge stretch of the South American continent.
A thick column of ash climbed into the stratosphere and blew eastward for hundreds of miles (kilometers) over Patagonia to the Atlantic Ocean, closing schools and a regional airport. Chilean and Argentine citizens were advised to wear masks to avoid breathing the dangerous fallout.
Chilean officials ordered the total evacuation of Chaiten, a small provincial capital in an area of lakes and glacier-carved fjords just six miles (10 kilometers) from the roiling cloud.
Interior Minister Edmundo Perez said anyone still in the area should “urgently head to ships in the bay to be evacuated.”
More than 4,000 people were evacuated over the weekend and 350 more headed out Tuesday.
Also emptied was the soot-coated border town of Futaleufu, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from the volcano.
The five-day-old eruption is the first in 9,370 years, said Charles Stern, a volcanologist at the University of Colorado-Boulder who has studied Chaiten.
He said the nearby town could end up buried, much like the Roman city of Pompeii following Mount Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 A.D. Volcanic material from Chaiten’s last eruption measured up to 5 feet in places.
“What happens after today is anybody’s guess,” Stern said.