SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — Authorities downgraded the likelihood of a major eruption at the Calbuco volcano, although the mountain remained active Saturday and the ash clouds it already ejected caused cancelations of more airline flights.
Rodrigo Alvarez, head of the National Mining and Geology Service, told TVN television that Calbuco's seismic activity had changed and experts no longer expected any additional eruption to exceed the two big blasts of Wednesday and Thursday. He stressed that the volcano was likely to remain active and said more eruptions are possible.
Officials urged people to keep using masks or handkerchiefs to prevent breathing in dust and they warned against drinking water from surface springs that could have been contaminated by falling volcanic ash.
A few airline flights were cancelled Saturday as ash from Calbuco spread over more of the southern half of South America, although most flights were unaffected.
At the foot of the volcano, authorities allowed some of the 1,500 people who evacuated the town of Ensenada to return temporarily to their homes to carry out belongings and clean up damage from the heavy ash fall. Numerous buildings were damaged by the weight of ash blanketed Ensenada, which is the closest town to Calbuco.
"Here there is nothing else to do, rescue the little that you can and move on. And there are no more words. All that happened is in sight and this house is no longer good for anything," Andres Reyes said of his house.
Residents also sought to care for their cattle, the main livelihood of the town.
Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo, who visited the area around the volcano about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) south of Chile's capital, said the government would compensate farmers for losses from the eruptions.
Fish farms, another major business for the affected area, also had significant damage, with ash fall choking thousands of fish in their tanks.
More than 6,000 people have been evacuated and authorities are maintaining a 12-mile (20-kilometer) exclusion zone around the volcano.
Calbuco roared back to life Wednesday afternoon, after lying dormant since a minor eruption in 1972. It billowed ash about 11 miles (18 kilometers) high in the initial blast, then several hours later produced a second, spectacular outburst that turned the nighttime sky reddish orange and caused huge lightning bolts to crackle through its ash plume.