Chile volcano ash circles globe, returns home

AP News
Posted: Jun 17, 2011 10:00 PM
Chile volcano ash circles globe, returns home

The ash cloud from a Chilean volcano that has been erupting for nearly two weeks has circled the globe and come home again.

The returning cloud _ which has disrupted flights in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Australia and New Zealand on its around-the-world trip _ on Friday forced Chilean officials to cancel domestic flights for the first time since the Cordon Caulle volcano began erupting June 4.

LAN airlines suspended flights to the cities of Puerto Montt, Coyhaique and Punta Arenas in the far south of the South American country. While ash from Cordon Caulle has wreaked havoc with air travel abroad, it had left Chile's internal flights largely untouched until Friday.

"The tip of the cloud that has traveled around the world is more or less in front of Coyhaique," said Civil Aviation Office chief Pablo Ortega. Coyhaique is 800 kilometers (500 miles) south of the volcano.

Chilean authorities evacuated 3,500 people living near the volcano after it began erupting but some have since returned.

The governor of Ranco province, Eduardo Holck, said the volcano is emitting a fine ash that is scattering over the Nilahue river valley.

The government, however, maintained a red alert for communities near Cordon Caulle. Chile's National Geology and Mines Service warned that volcanic activity could begin again "with episodes similar or greater in intensity that was has occurred."

On Thursday, the government of the Argentine province of Neuquen declared an economic emergency to aid towns where falling ash from Chile's volcano is endangering livestock and keeping tourists away.

The decree by Gov. Jorge Sapag will mean that those affected can receive tax benefits, among other measures.

The ash has blanketed towns across the border in Argentina.

In the area of Villa La Angostura up to one foot (30 centimeters) of ash has accumulated on the ground. The eruption came just as resorts in the mountain towns were preparing for ski season.

Argentina's regional airports in Patagonia have also been shut down for more than a week due to the cloud of fine grit, which can damage airplane engines.