Authorities evacuated hundreds of people from villages in southern Chile after a snowcapped volcano considered dormant for thousands of years erupted, sending minor earthquakes rippling through the region.
The 3,550ft Chaiten volcano belched fire and ash, causing more than 60 small tremors in the Los Lagos region, 750 miles south of the capital Santiago, the government’s Emergency Bureau said.
Mild seismic activity could continue for the next several days, said bureau director Carmen Fernandez.
Chile’s government declared a state of emergency, evacuating as many as 1,500 people from nearby villages and the town of Chaiten, just over six miles from the volcano, the bureau said.
The amount of ash falling in Chaiten had dropped considerably by last night and the wind was moving it south east, Emergency Bureau volcanologist Juan Cayupi said.
Ash from the eruption was polluting water supplies and prompting officials to hand out more than 10,000 protective masks, said interior minister Edmundo Perez.
Winds also carried ash over the Andes mountains to neighbouring Argentina, where the education ministry suspended classes in several towns, including Esquel and Trevelin – two popular Patagonian tourist destinations.
Authorities there declared a state of alert on two major roads as falling ash reduced visibility.
The Chaiten volcano has “probably been dormant for about 9,000 or 10,000 years but that’s not unusual”, said Charles Stern, a professor of volcanology at the University of Colorado who specialises in Andes volcanoes.
Mr Stern, who has studied Chaiten specifically, said it was still considered “a potentially active volcano”.
Chaiten last had “an explosive eruption that generated a very big ash cloud,” he added.
“I would really worry about the village of Chaiten. I think they would want to get everybody out of there really soon,” he said.
In southern Peru, the Ubinas volcano shot out gases and ash twice on Friday, covering local homes and crops. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The eruptions shot ash up to 1,600 feet into the air, said Santos Alvarez, an official from the town of Ubinas.
Ubinas is in the province of Moquegua, 500 miles south east of Lima. An eruption in April 2006 forced the temporary evacuation of nearby villagers.