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Villarrica Volcano Eruption Sends Lava 3000 Feet into the Air

Mar 03, 2015 01:04 PM EST
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Southern Chile's Villarrica volcano, one of the country's most dangerous and active volcanoes, erupted early Tuesday, sending lava 3,000 feet into the air and causing thousands to flee, according to reports.

According to the National Emergency Office, the 9,000-foot-high (2,847-meter) volcano erupted around 3am local time, prompting a red alert and immediate evacuations from the area. Villarrica is located near the popular tourist resort of Pucon, around 460 miles (750 km) south of the capital Santiago, and has a population of about 22,000 people.

A plume of ash and lava skyrocketed up to 3,300 feet (1,000 meters) into the sky. And although this violent outburst was short-lived, it was a sight to be seen.

"It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen," 29-year-old Australian tourist Travis Armstrong, who was in the area, told The Associated Press (AP). "I've never seen a volcano erupt and it was spewing lava and ash hundreds of meters into the air. Lightning was striking down at the volcano from the ash cloud that formed from the eruption."

Authorities did note that after about 20 minutes following the initial eruption, the volcano seemed to calm down again. However, that does not mean that everyone is in the clear.

"After an eruptive pulse, which was pretty intense but very short at 3 am, the volcanic system remains unstable and it is possible that something similar could occur again in the next few hours," Luis Lara, head of national geological service Sernageomin, told Reuters.

Some 3,500 people have been evacuated so far, including tourists, said Interior and Security Minister Rodrigo Penailillo.

There is also the fear that mudslides caused by melting snow could endanger nearby communities. The eruption caused numerous rivers in the area to rise as snow along the volcano's sides began melting under the intense heat. Villarrica is covered by a glacier cap covering some 15 square miles (40 square kilometers) and snow from about 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) on up.

"We're still a bit nervous because we don't know what's happening," Jose Manuel Reyes, from Pucon, told the AP. "There was nervousness, but we haven't seen any panic."

Officials will continue to monitor the volcano for any further activity.

As one of South America's most active volcanoes, it's no surprise that this isn't Villarrica's first eruption. The volcano erupts about every 10 to 15 years, its last major episode occurring in 1984.

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