LA ENSENADA, Chile: Southern Chile dug itself out from under a thick layer of gray ash Friday while keeping a wary eye on the Calbuco volcano after it spectacularly erupted for the first time in half a century.
The volcano, which unexpectedly burst into life with two eruptions Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, forcing 4,500 people to evacuate, caused alarm again early Friday when it emitted a large puff of smoke.
The head of the National Geology and Mines Service said the volcano was still in “crisis phase,” though initial warnings of a possible third eruption have not materialized so far.
The ash cloud meanwhile continued to drift, disrupting flights across a large swath of South America, including one plane from Sydney to Santiago that was forced to turn back after five hours.
In Buenos Aires, on the other side of the continent, American Airlines, United, Delta and Air France all cancelled flights to and from Europe and the United States.
Chilean authorities have declared a state of emergency, sent in the army and evacuated a 20-kilometer radius around Calbuco, which is located in Los Lagos, a region popular with tourists for its beautiful mountain landscapes dotted with volcanoes and lakes with black-sand beaches.
Scores of evacuated residents gathered at the police barricade outside the town of La Ensenada, anxious to check on their homes and feed their pets.
On the other side of the security perimeter, the evacuation area was turned into a scattering of ghost towns blanketed with ash up to one meter (three feet) thick, an AFP photographer said.