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5/08/2008

Massive volcanic cloud creeps over Argentina, Chile

South America
Image:
A huge cloud of ash spewed from the Chaiten volcano, some 1,300 kms south of Santiago

The Chaiten volcano poured out gas and ash for a sixth day on Wednesday. A thick cloud of ash from the volcano spread across a swathe of South America, prompting fears of health crisis for the people caught in its wake. The enormous slow-moving plume was expected to soon reach Buenos Aires, where about eight million people live, spreading airborne ash particles which health officials warned could be highly dangerous to inhale. The dense, 30-kilometer (19-mile) high plume of volcanic ash took a northeasterly turn overnight to Wednesday after moving for days in a southeasterly direction. Ash from the volcano is expected to blanket the Chilean town of Palena and the Argentine ski resort Bariloche northeast of Chaiten. The area around a 30-kilometer radius of the volcano has been completely evacuated. A Chilean vulcanologist warned Tuesday that the eruption was only in the early stages, and that an explosive eruption was possible. "There could be a major explosion that could collapse the volcano's cone."

Looking down over the ash cloud soaring from Chaiten volcano in southern Chile, the whole area is carpeted in white and experts say the eruption could last for months. "According to experts, the (ash cloud) is less dense, which could indicate a lower probability of it exploding more intensely, but it's just a hypothesis." "This could last a month, three months, maybe we can never return. We are so worried."
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