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Thousands evacuated as Chile's Villarica volcano erupts

One of South America's most active volcanos erupts in southern Chile

One of South America's most active volcanos erupted early Tuesday in southern Chile, spewing heavy smoke as lava surged down its slopes and prompting authorities to evacuate thousands of people.

The Villarica volcano erupted around 3 a.m. local time, according to the National Emergency Office, which issued a red alert. Local media showed images of the volcano bursting at the top, glowing in the dark amid heavy smoke and rivers of lava.

The 9,000-foot (2,847-meter) volcano in Chile's central valley, 400 miles (670 kilometers) south of Santiago, sits above the small city of Pucon, which has a population of about 22,000.

Tourists flock there for outdoor activities like kayaking, horseback riding, fishing and hiking around the volcano, which last had a major eruption in 1984. Dozens of tourists were among those evacuated.

President Michelle Bachelet announced that she will travel to the area and asked residents to remain calm.

Chilean authorities had issued an orange alert on Monday because of increased volcanic activity. About 3,500 people have been evacuated so far, including tourists, said Interior and Security Minister Rodrigo Penailillo.

Penailillo warned that the eruption had caused numerous rivers in the area to rise as snow along the sides of the volcano melted.

The Villarica has a crater of about 200 meters (yards) in diameter and a lake of lava about 150 meters (yards) deep. It erupts every 10 to 15 years.

Chile has more than 2,000 volcanoes in the Andes and about 90 of them remain active.

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