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Chile's volcanic ash grounds all Buenos Aires flights


Latest update : 2011-06-09

Chile's Puyehue volcano released an ash cloud over South America on Thursday, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights. All flights from Buenos Aires were halted as well as most originating from the Uruguayan capital Montevideo.

AFP - Clouds of ash from Chile's erupting Puyehue volcano drifted over a large swath of South America Thursday, forcing hundreds of flights to be canceled including from major transportation hub Buenos Aires.

All flights from the Argentine capital were grounded while most flights were canceled out of the Uruguayan capital Montevideo, forcing President Jose Mujica to postpone a meeting in Buenos Aires with his Argentine counterpart.

"Humans make plans, but God has the final word," Mujica said on his weekly radio program. "The ash from the volcano has apparently killed off the trip."

Southern Chile's Puyehue volcano rumbled to life on Saturday for the first time since 1960, and has since been belching thick clouds of hot ash. Northeasterly winds spread the ash across much of southern Argentina towards Buenos Aires, Uruguay and southern Brazil.

The volcano is located 870 kilometers (540 miles) south of the Chilean capital Santiago near the border with Argentina, into Chile's Lago Ranco area.

"All flights have been canceled because the ash cloud is above Buenos Aires," a spokesperson for Aeropuertos Argentinos 2000, the group that manages the area airports, told AFP.

The ash was some 9,000 meters (29,000 feet) above the Argentine capital, and most flights travel on average at 10,000 meters (33,000 feet), the airport official said.

Flights in and out of Buenos Aires had been canceled for much of Tuesday, but resumed on Wednesday.

A find coat of ash blanketed much of Buenos Aires Thursday, surprising local residents.

Volcanic ash "is very dangerous, very abrasive for plane engines and could result in very serious complications," warned Argentine Transportation Secretary Juan Pablo Schiavi.

Most air terminals in central and southern Argentina will remain closed "until there is a guarantee that they can operate safely," read a statement from a crisis committee monitoring the situation.

"The current projection... is that the cloud of volcanic ash will be with us all day," Uruguay's director of the office of Meteorology and Aeronautics, Laura Vanoli, told local radio.

Uruguayan authorities also warned that visibility will be "significantly reduced" at least until early Friday.

One of the hardest-hit towns was Villa La Angostura, a mere 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the volcano. The bucolic Argentine resort town is buried under more than 20 centimeters (8 inches) of volcanic ash, enough to knock down power lines and clog water pipes.

Villa La Angostura has hosted the likes of Dutch Prince Willem-Alexander and his Argentine-born wife. According to Disney Studios, Walt Disney traveled from the town to the nearby Los Arrayanes forest for inspiration as he was preparing his 1942 animated movie "Bambi."

Even closer to Chile in the town of El Rincon, a mere kilometer (0.6 miles) from the border, pensioner Ruben Monsalve refuses to leave his home.

"Every day I feel a bit of movement" from seismic activity, he said. "But why get scared if I'm inside my house?"

Most of his neighbors however have fled the town.

The eruption also forced the Argentine ski resort town Bariloche, located some 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the volcano, to declare a state of emergency and close its airport.

Officials say the airport will re-open on June 21, the day that winter starts in the southern hemisphere, and that they expect to be hosting skiers from around the world as they do each year.

In 2008 the eruption of the Chaiten volcano, also in southern Chile, spread a thick cloud of ash across a large swath of South America, grounding flights across the region.


Date created : 2011-06-09


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