Chaitén Volcano In Southern Chile Increasingly Active

By Dialogo
April 17, 2009

The activity of the Chaitén volcano, which has been erupting since May 2008 in southern Chile, has steadily increased since April 8, the National Service of Geology and Mining (Sernageomin) reported today. The increase in activity since that day has been "continuous and sustained," said the agency, which also said that since then there has been a daily average of 16 earthquakes with magnitudes of up to 4.5 on the Richter scale in the volcano, which is located about 1,200 kilometers from Santiago. The Chaitén volcano began to erupt on May 2, 2008, and forced the evacuation of more than 5,000 inhabitants of the town of the same name, located at just ten kilometers from the crater, and which is also the capital of the province of Palena, in the region of Los Lagos. In subsequent months, the volcanic material caused rivers to overflow. Their water devastated much of the town, which became uninhabitable and led the government to choose a new location around ten kilometers further north on which to rebuild. According to Sernageomin, the increase in seismic energy released in recent days may be related to the faster growth of the domes formed in the volcano after it began to erupt. According to the agency, this may cause explosions and flows of chunks of volcanic material and ashes that could affect the valleys adjacent to the volcano, generating hazardous lahars (fast flows of dense mixtures of rock particles and water drained from volcanoes). The area of the volcano has remained below cloudy sky for the last few days, and the lava domes and columns of gases and ashes in the volcano have only occasionally been visible. The Sernageomin said that the width of the column has increased, although its height has not risen more than 1.5 km above the domes, compared to the over 20 kilometers it reached in the early weeks of the eruption. Last week the volcano Llaima, located about 670 kilometers from Santiago in the Araucanía region, also caused alarm with a new cycle of eruptions, and forced authorities to declare a red alert in five nearby towns and to evacuate several dozen residents. However, the situation has calmed in recent days for Llaima, considered one of the most active volcanoes in South America. Regional authorities lowered the alert level from red to yellow today. EFE