Chile volcano erupts; 3,600 people evacuated

Chile volcano erupts; 3,600 people evacuated

SANTIAGO - A volcano in southern Chile began erupting early Tuesday forcing the evacuation of some 3,600 people in nearby towns, the government said.

The Villarrica volcano, one of Chile's most active, began erupting around 3:00 am (0600 GMT), prompting authorities to declare a red alert and cancel classes in schools, the National Emergency Office said.

As sirens sounded, Chilean TV footage showed lava spewing from the volcano about 800 kilometers (500 miles) south of the capital Santiago.

Tall plumes of ash rose as high as three kilometers above the volcano, which is about 2,800 meters (9,200 feet) high, and authorities blocked roads leading to the surrounding area.

But hours later there were no longer any visible signs of eruption.

Authorities partially lifted their red alert, keeping it in place for a 10-kilometer radius around the volcano but allowing residents of the main towns in the area to return home.

"I am calling for calm. We are monitoring and evaluating the situation closely," said President Michelle Bachelet after meeting with the country's emergency committee.

She said she would visit the area in the coming hours.

Villarrica is considered one of the most active volcanoes in South America, and draws crowds of tourists each year, with hikers climbing its slopes in the summer months to peer inside its crater.

Its last major eruptions were in 1984 and 2000.

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