Residents of the Chilean towns of Chaiten and Futaleufu were in for a real shock on Friday when a long-dormant volcano came to life. Nobody knows for sure when the Chaiten volcano last erupted - estimates range from 400 to over 9,000 years ago. But now that it has erupted, there seems to be no letting up.
The eruption began on Friday, with the volcano spewing out smoke, gas, steam and ash in a column that at times was as high as 19 feet. On Tuesday the intensity of the eruption increased further, when lava started flowing out.
At this point, officials did not want to risk any lives and 4,000 residents were evacuated from the region.
A white carpet of Ash now covers areas as far out as Argentina, forcing schools to close. A lot of flights in and out of the region have also been cancelled.
Nobody knows when the volcano will die down. Volcano experts believe one of two things could happen. Either the plume will collapse and the volcano will simmer down, or the crater could explode sending out a flow of superheated gases that would destroy everything in its path.
Even if the volcano dies, the damage to livestock will be quite severe. The residents of Chaiten and Futaleufa have left behind over 13,000 herds of cattle, which are probably dead from the ashes. People living in the surrounding areas also have to be careful, as the gases are toxic.
A volcano is an opening in the earth's crust through which magma and gases are released. Magma or lava as it is called once it flows out, is molten rock formed when the earth's crust melts. Chile is one of the most volcanic countries in the world, with more than 100 active volcanoes. Experts believe that of those about 20 are in danger of erupting anytime. However, predicting a volcano eruption is almost impossible because so many different factors are involved. Scientists are currently experimenting with lasers to see if they can predict eruptions more accurately.
Meawhile, the residents of Chaiten and Futaleufa are wondering if they will have homes left, if and when they are allowed to go back!
Sources: Science Daily, Daily Mail, Telegraph