LA ENSENADA, Chile - A large column of smoke streamed from Chile's Calbuco volcano Friday, prompting new warnings that it could erupt again after unexpectedly roaring back to life and forcing thousands to evacuate.
As thick plumes of pale gray smoke began to billow again from the volcano's crater, the National Geology and Mines Service issued new warnings that a third eruption could follow the spectacular bursts of ash and lava that sent southern Chile into panic late Wednesday and early Thursday.
Authorities ordered the preventive evacuation of some 2,000 people from three more towns at risk of flooding from snow and ice melting high in the mountains due to the volcano's heat, bringing the total number of evacuees to around 6,500.
Additionally, about 300 farmers were affected by the eruption and authorities on Saturday planned to evacuate about 4,000 sheep and cattle.
The ash cloud meanwhile continued to drift, disrupting flights across a large swath of South America, including planes from Paris, Sydney and Dallas that were forced to either turn back or land elsewhere.
In Buenos Aires, on the other side of the continent, American Airlines, United, Delta and Air France all cancelled flights to and from Europe and the United States.
Chilean authorities have declared a state of emergency, sent in the army and evacuated a 20-kilometre radius around Calbuco, which is located in Los Lagos, a region popular with tourists for its beautiful mountain landscapes dotted with volcanoes and lakes with black-sand beaches.
As some residents dug themselves out from beneath the thick layer of ash that blanketed the area, others who were evacuated from their homes gathered at the police barricade outside the town of La Ensenada, anxious to check on their houses and feed their pets.
On the other side of the security perimeter, the evacuation area was turned into a scattering of ghost towns blanketed with ash up to one meter (three feet) thick, an AFP photographer said.
In La Ensenada, a town of 1,500 people that was the first to be evacuated, workers used heavy trucks to plow the roads clear as a handful of residents ignored the evacuation order to shovel the ash and debris off their rooftops.
The weight of the ash caused some roofs to collapse.
Authorities said that if the current conditions held, residents would be allowed to return home for a few hours in the afternoon to retrieve some belongings, after fleeing with nothing but the clothes on their backs.