A volcano in southern Chile erupted for the first time in 50 years, prompting evacuation orders for 3,500 people as it spewed smoke and ash more than six miles into the sky, authorities said, according to AFP.
The National Service of Geology and Mining said the explosion that caused the eruption, in the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic complex, also produced a column of gas 10 kilometers high.
The government, which had earlier ordered the evacuation of 600 people to shelters in safe areas, raised that number to 3,500. Authorities issued a red alert, the highest warning level, for the area.
Witnesses also reported a strong smell of ash and sulfur, BBC News said. A dozen small earthquakes were recorded before the volcano began to erupt. Ash clouds have drifted as far as Argentina where residents have been ordered to stay indoors and a regional airport in the city of Bariloche has been closed due to volcanic ash.
According to AFP:
"We're trying to stop car traffic and ask that people stay at home and close their doors and windows to prevent the volcanic ash from coming in. The city's airport was also closed," Carlos Hidalgo, Bariloche's communications secretary, told TN television.
"Ash was dumped like a snowstorm... The city is covered in gray ash."
There were no immediate reports of injuries, CNN reported.
Chile is located on the so-called "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines circling the Pacific Basin that is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Puyehue is nestled in the Andes mountains, about 870 kilometers, or 540 miles, south of Santiago, AFP said. The last time it had a major eruption was in 1960, following a magnitude 9.5 earthquake.