SANTIAGO, Chile – Police and soldiers were clearing the last remaining people from the shadow of a Chilean volcano on Thursday after a strong explosion spewed glowing-hot rocks.
The week-old eruption at the Chaiten volcano has scattered ash across a wide swath of South America, forced regional airports to close and drove more than 7,000 people from their homes. Volcanologist Luis Lara warned it could grow worse.
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"The worst that could happen is that the seismic activity begins to increase, the explosions become greater and large domes form that could collapse and produce pyroclastic flows," said Lara, of the government's Geological and Mining Service.
Pyroclastic flows are blasts of volcanic material that can move at great speed, destroying everything in their path.
Armed with a court order for people leave an area with a 30-mile (50-kilometer) radius around the mountain, authorities were forcibly removing about 130 holdouts, mostly small farmers, who refused to abandon their livestock.
Defense Minister Jose Goni said the government requested the court order "because the danger is clear, as the volcano remains very active." Geologists reports that explosions around midnight Wednesday hurled out hot rock.
Two Argentine airlines, Austral and Aerolineas Argentinas, canceled flights at half a dozen cities on Thursday because of poor visibility from the drifting ash and smoke.
The government said it has earmarked some US$10.6 million (euro6.8 million) in initial disaster funds to help the victims during the first month. Officials are also helping move hundreds of head of livestock from the disaster zone, and promise to compensate farmers whose animals are killed.