Latin America & Caribbean

Chile volcano chain: Puyehue erupts, forcing evacuation

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Media captionVolcanologist Dr Clive Oppenheimer says it is unclear how long the eruption will last

A chain of volcanoes has erupted in southern Chile, forcing the evacuation of thousands of residents.

Large columns of smoke have been rising from the Puyehue-Cordon-Caulle volcano range, about 800km (500 miles) south of the capital, Santiago.

Witnesses also reported a strong smell of ash and sulphur. A dozen small earthquakes were recorded before the eruption began.

The officials have issued a red alert - the maximum warning level for the area.

Evacuation orders were issued for some 3,500 people, the local authorities said.

They added the residents would be relocated in temporary shelters in safe areas.

Hundreds of Chileans in the south of the country have spent the night in hostels and municipal buildings after being told to leave their homes due to fears that they would be covered in ash, says the BBC's Gideon Long in Santiago.

But some have refused to go, saying they are worried their houses will be looted in their absence.

One day after it started to erupt, the volcano chain continues to send smoke and ash billowing over 10km (six miles) into the air.

And on Sunday morning, southern Chile was also hit by a strong earth tremor, although experts say they do not think the two events were linked.

So far, there have been no reports of any injuries.

Argentine spillover

However, ash clouds have drifted to neighbouring Argentina where officials have ordered residents to stay indoors.

A regional airport in the Argentine city of Bariloche has been closed due to the volcanic ash, and an important road crossing between the two countries has also been shut.

One official there said ash was falling like snow.

Eyewitness Juli Kessler told the BBC she saw "big black clouds hanging over the Andes" and ash dust lying on the road.

This is the first serious eruption of the volcano chain since 1960, when the area was hit by a massive earthquake.

Chile is one of the most volcanic countries on Earth. There are over 3,000 volcanoes dotted along its length, and around 80 of them are active.