Chile: Volcanic eruption interferes with air traffic, tourism

The ash spewed from the eruption of the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcano complex has covered parts of Chile, Uruguay and Argentina, where a man walks in the mountain resort of San Martín de Los Andes. (Patricio Rodriguez/Reuters)

The ash spewed from the eruption of the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcano complex has covered parts of Chile, Uruguay and Argentina, where a man walks in the mountain resort of San Martín de Los Andes. (Patricio Rodriguez/Reuters)

By Adrián Martínez for Infosurhoy.com—15/06/2011

SANTIAGO, Chile – The eruption of the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcano complex has caused hundreds of flights to be cancelled, closed routes of transit and forced thousands from their residences, officials said.

After a week of volcanic activity, smoke ascended more than 4.6 miles (7.5 kilometers) high, and a blanket of ash covered parts of Argentina and traveled across the Atlantic Ocean, reaching New Zealand and Australia.

The ash led to the cancellation of hundreds of flights scheduled to arrive and depart from airports in Santiago, Chile; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Montevideo, Uruguay; Auckland, New Zealand; and Melbourne, Australia.

Several provinces in southern Argentina also have been impacted, especially Neuquén, Chubut and Río Negro, which were placed under a state of emergency by the government on June 13.

Mario Das Neves, the governor or the province of Chubut, said the government allocated $7 million pesos (US$1.71 million) to assist 1,200 farmers who were affected the most by the eruption, according to the Argentine daily La Jornada.

Some organizations in rural Chubut estimate that 750,000 sheep will die as the result of the blanket of ash on plains throughout the southern provinces.

“We will see important losses, both economic and socially,” said Ernesto Siguero, president of the Rural Associations Federation of Chubut. “We are seeing that the whole northern part of the province is being abandoned.”

Chubut lost a million sheep during a recent four-year drought.

“The ash only complicates this situation,” Siguero said.

Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner asked for residents in the country’s southern provinces to remain calm.

“I know it’s a bother, I know it incites fear and, more than anything else, what is happening is psychological. But have faith and trust that things are overcome with faith and hard work,” she said during an event on June 8 in Buenos Aires. “I want to tell those who live in the affected areas not to be frightened.”

Fernández de Kirchner reminded residents she lived through the 1991 eruption of the Hudson volcano in the province of Santa Cruz, where she lived with her late husband, Néstor Kirchner.

The impact on production and tourism

Argentina has been affected the most from the ash that’s been spewed from the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcano complex, but southern Chile also has been impacted.

Southern Chile’s economy depends on tourism revenue, but the natural disaster has slowed the number of tourists arriving to enjoy the area’s beautiful mountain ranges.

Chilean authorities ordered the evacuation of close to 3,500 residents living in a 30 kilometer radius (18.6-mile) of Cordón Caulle. The eruption caused a large amount of sediment to fall into the Nilahue River, causing the body of water located at the foot of the complex to overflow and destroy everything in its path.

The border crossing of Cardenal Samoré, located six miles from the volcano and which serves as an important commercial link to the neighboring province of Río Negro, has been closed since June 4.

On the Chilean side, the closest cities to the eruption are Puyehue and Lago Ranco, which are in the province of Osorno and home to a combined population of about 14,500.

Puyehue and Lago Ranco depend almost exclusively on tourism, as they are gateways to the complexes of Puyehue and offer access to Ranco Lake.

Claudio Soto, the operations manager at Hotel Termas in Puyehue, said the hotel is open. But hotel officials also are in constant communication with authorities, since their building could be evacuated.

Soto said the hotel’s reservations are down 10% compared to last year.

María Jimena Núñez, the mayor of Puyehue, said she hopes the situation doesn’t get worse. She said the town isn’t having any trouble getting the products it needs from businesses throughout the country.

“Entrelagos is a safe area, and the weather conditions are absolutely favorable,” she said.

Santiago Rosas, the mayor of Lago Ranco, said the situation in his town is more complicated because the rising Nilahue River could damage evacuated homes.

“The temperature of the river water has risen to 45 degrees (Celsius),” he said. “Tremors continue every hour in the area.”

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