By Delisa Morris

Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SANTIAGO, Chile– Just in time for Earth Day Volcano Calbuco erupted last night in Chile for the first time in more than four decades.  The sudden eruption sent a thick plume of ash and smoke several kilometers into the sky.

By night, almost 4,000 people had been moved from the area, an evacuation radius of 20 kilometers was established and schools in the area and the classes were cancelled in surrounding towns, authorities noted.

Chile’s Onemi emergency office declared a red alert following the sudden eruption at around 6 p.m. local time.  Calibuco lies about 1,000 km south of the capital, Santiago, near the tourist town of Puerto Varas.

President Michelle Bachelet is scheduled to travel to the affected area on Thursday.

According to Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo there were no reports of deaths, missing persons or injuries.  Penailillo urged residents to evacuate the area and warned of possible lahars, a mix of water and rock fragments that flow down a volcano’s slopes and river valleys.

The column of ash and smoke is being pushed northeast towards Argentina, by winds.

“In this situation, with the eruption column so high, the main risk is that it collapses, falls due to gravity because of its own weight and causes a pyroclastic flow,” Gabriel Orozco, a vulcanologist with Chile’s geological and mining service, said on local TV.

Video courtesy of Informaciones Chile

A pyroclastic flow is a superheated current of gas and rock that can destroy nearly everything in its path and travel at speeds upwards of 200 to 300 kilometres per hour.

The volcanic ash has caused flights to be cancelled in Argentina and Chile due to the ash making it dangerous to fly.  The ash can cause damage to an airplane.

Canadian-born Trevor Moffat, who lives in Ensenada, some 10 kilometres from the volcano, said the eruption happened without warning. Volcano Calbuco’s last known eruption was in 1972 and the most recent major eruption happened in 1961.

“It sounded like a big tractor trailer passing by the road, rattling and shaking, guttural rumbling … we left everything there, grabbed my kid, my dog, got in the car with my wife,” said Moffat, who was driving to nearby Puerto Varas at the time.

“All the neighbours were outside, a lot of young people crying. Armageddon-type reaction.”

For more information, please see:

CBC News – Calibuco Volcano Eruption in Chile Forces Evacuation of 4,000 People from the Region – 23 Apr. 2015

LA Times – Hiker Found as Ash from Calibuco Volcano Closes Borders in Chile – 23 Apr. 2015

Aljazeera – Thousands Evacuated as Chile Volcano Erupts – 23 Apr. 2015

Reuters – Flights Canceled as Ash Cloud Pours from Chile Volcano – 23 Apr. 2015

Author: Delisa Morris

Delisa Morris is a Law Student and Master of Science Candidate in Public Relations at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York.

She is originally from Chicago, Illinois and completed her Bachelor’s degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.