PUERTO MONTT, Chile – President Michelle Bachelet toured shelters packed with evacuees fleeing Chile's Chaiten volcano, which continued to spew smoke and ash across deserted southern villages on Sunday.
Some evacuees, including Chaiten neighborhood association chair Lorenzo Maureira, sought her support to rebuild their tiny town outside the path of the snowcapped volcano, which erupted late Thursday for the first time in thousands of years.
Nearly all of Chaiten's 4,500 residents fled as the volcano, just 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) away, cloaked their part of the Los Lagos region with a thick layer of ash — polluting the air and water supply.
Bachelet vowed to provide evacuees with cash subsidies, food, shelter and medical care, though she gave no details and unveiled no specific aid package.
"The people of Chaiten deserve a round of applause," Bachelet said, praising residents at a local shelter for their orderly evacuation.
Police and soldiers patrolled the deserted town Sunday to keep looters from empty stores and homes, while preparations were made to evacuate the mountain village of Futelaufu near Chile's Argentine border, Bachelet said.
It is too early to decide to rebuild Chaiten elsewhere, she added, promising to monitor the volcano's future activity before making such move. Experts estimate that Chaiten last erupted at least 9,000 years ago.
"Obviously, we'd like people from Chaiten to return as soon as possible, but we know there are still risks and uncertainty about how the volcano will behave," Bachelet said.
Many residents want to go home. "We will rebuild from the ashes," Chaiten Mayor Jose Miguel Fritis promised on Saturday.