Yesterday’s eruption of the Villarrica volcano in southern Chile brought to mind my visit to Chaiten, a town even further south, exactly two years ago. Yes, I fully realize that to be a coincidence that only I will find entertaining.
Chaiten made headlines across the planet in May 2008 with a nearby volcano that bears the town’s name woke from a 9,370-year slumber. It blew a column of ash and hot gases nearly 31 kilometers into the sky and spewed ash as far as Buenos Aires. Half the town was destroyed and nearly five years later, much of the damage was still clearly visible, as evidenced by this photo of a house near the Gulf of Corcovado.
A few previous posts about Chaiten which feature a few dozen photos, a video notebook and plenty of notes are here, here and here. If you were to ask me to pick just one, it would be the first.
Villarrica, one of South America’s most active volcanoes, erupted around 3 a.m. Tuesday morning, forcing the evacuation of about 3,500 people, according to the Associated Press. The volcano, which sits close to Pucon, a popular tourist and outdoor activities retreat, last erupted in 1984.
Officials are now bracing for rising river levels brought on by melting snow and ice. Villarrica is covered with snow from 1,500 meters and up, and capped by a 40-square kilometer glacier.
There’s a sublime beauty to the extraordinary power that produces volcanic eruptions, this one included. As one witness told the AP:
“It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” 29-year-old Australian tourist Travis Armstrong said in a telephone interview from Pucon. “I’ve never seen a volcano erupt and it was spewing lava and ash hundreds of meters into the air. Lightning was striking down at the volcano from the ash cloud that formed from the eruption.”