Image: Sleeping giant ... smoke rises from Chaiten volcano, 1220km south of Santiago. The volcano had been dormant for thousands of years / Reuters / Reuters
CHAITEN VOLCANO spewed ash over Patagonian towns in southern Chile today, two days after its FIRST ERUPTION IN THOUSANDS OF YEARS forced authorities to evacuate about 4000 residents. Local media said an elderly woman died as rescue teams evacuated the last remaining people from the town of Chaiten, close to where the snow-capped volcano of the same name erupted on Saturday, triggering earth tremors and sending a cloud of ash three km into the air. Residents were also evacuated from nearby Futaleufu. There is no record of the volcano erupting in the last 2000 years. Southern Chile is fragmented into hundreds of small islands and fjords. Some residents had never ventured from Chaiten itself until the 1000m volcano 10km away forced them to leave. Chile's 2000 volcanoes include two of Latin America's most active - Villarica and Llaima. Llaima, about 700km south of Santiago, erupted on New Year's Day this year, spewing ash and molten lava and forcing dozens of tourists and staff to evacuate a wilderness park. Scientists said some 500 of Chile's volcanoes are potentially active. Chile has the world's second most active string of volcanoes behind Indonesia.
Update: A cataclysmic blast is possible