Chile volcano leaves residents coping with ash, worried about water

A state of emergency remained in effect for miles around Chile's Calbuco volcano; officials pledge assistance

A state of emergency remained in effect for miles around Chile’s Calbuco volcano Monday, as officials pledged to help thousands of residents faced with thick ash, the threat of contaminated drinking water and the possibility of lava flow tied to last week’s eruptions.

Chilean television showed some residents wearing masks as they tried to clean volcanic ash from the roofs of their houses and from the streets. Many of the 6,000 people who were evacuated from towns surrounding the volcano in southern Chile had not been allowed to return to their homes as of midday Monday.

Authorities also warned of possible contamination of drinking water supplies and farm crops due to the toxic content of the volcanic ash. The volcano had been inactive since the early 1970s before erupting Wednesday and Thursday.

Officials said a state of emergency remained for a 13-mile radius surrounding the 6,200-foot Calbuco volcano, about 650 miles south of the capital, Santiago, in the Los Lagos region. Rain could trigger mudslides and overflow rivers, they said.

“We remain not just concerned, but busy in trying to resolve the needs so that people can return [to their homes] and normalize their lives as soon as possible,” President Michelle Bachelet told reporters at the presidential palace La Moneda in Santiago.

Chile’s National Geologic and Mining Service estimated that the volcano had so far emitted 210 millon cubic meters of ash, which covered areas in the immediate Chilean area of Los Lagos but also fell on the Argentine side of the border.

There were still no estimates of economic damages caused by the eruptions, although hotels reported widespread cancellations.

Although local tourism officials said conditions were gradually returning to normal, several national parks remained closed Monday.

Most of the airports in Chile and in Argentina resumed normal operations, officials said, after dozens of flights were canceled last week due to spewing ash.

In Argentina, schools reopened for class in the resort city of Bariloche, though flights from the capital, Buenos Aires, had not returned to normal. Residents there were urged to not use their automobiles to avoid raising ash.

D’Alessandro is a special correspondent. Special correspondent Chris Kraul in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.

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