Tourists rescued as volcano erupts


(eTN) – About 700 people were evacuated as the Llaima volcano erupted in southern Chile, rocking the area with explosions and spewing lava and ash.

The evacuees included about 200 tourists, National Forest Service employees and others in the surrounding Conguillio National Park, about 700 kilometres south of the capital, Santiago.

Hundreds spent the night outside or in shelters in Melipeuco, a town of 5000 near the Llaima volcano.

Others fled to communities farther away.

Rescue workers evacuated 54 tourists and staff from a Chilean wilderness park who had been stranded after a local river swelled with meltwater and cut off road access.

“Army personnel evacuated 43 people who remained in the Conguillio National Park. Another 11 people, park personnel and their family members, were also evacuated,” Chile’s National Emergency Office (Onemi) said in a statement.

Chile’s Emergency Bureau director, Carmen Fernandez, said a larger evacuation wasn’t necessary, despite television images showing thick smoke and lava flowing from the crater.

The surrounding Conguillio National Park was closed off to visitors and authorities asked curious tourists not to get too close.

“At this moment I would recommend against tourism in the area,” Fernandez said on national television.

The bureau said the eruption was decreasing, even as Argentina reported a heavy presence of gas and ash across the border.

The 3,20-metre-high Llaima is one of the country’s most active volcanoes, but has not had a major blast since 1994.

Before the eruption, people in the towns closest to the volcano said they heard loud noises underground.

The volcano began erupting at 6.20pm yesterday (0820 AEDT Wednesday) and it was unclear how long it would continue.

It sent a column of smoke and ash into the air and spewed lava down the east side of the mountain.