Chile's Volcanic Eruption Still Wreaking Havoc
June 12, 2011 • 8:54AM

The ongoing eruption of Chile's Puyehue-Cordon Caullo volcano chain not only continues to wreak havoc inside the country. Yesterday, as a result of volcanic ash that had been carried by winds as far away as New Zealand and Australia, airlines in both those countries were forced to cancel many flights. Flights at several Argentine airports had to be grounded again on June 9, after having been resumed the previous day, due to another "rainfall" of volcanic ash.

Chilean geologists are warning that the volcano could keep erupting for several weeks, with unpredictable consequences.

Meanwhile, in the Chilean towns bordering the volcano chain, tons of hot volcanic rock, ash and other debris that have fallen into the region's rivers have dramatically raised water levels, in some cases blocking the rivers at their narrowest points and causing them to overflow their banks. On June 9, the Nilahue River did in fact overflow its banks.

Responding to the danger of landslides and flooding, authorities have ordered an evacuation of all residents in the Nilahue River Valley. A court ruled today that, if necessary, security forces could evacuate citizens by force, enforcing the constitutional mandate to protect human life.

Moreover, the hot volcanic material has caused the temperature of rivers and lakes to rise so much that fish cannot survive in them. The temperature of the Ranco Lake, for example, is normally 41 degrees Fahrenheit at this time of year, but it's now 113 degrees Fahrenheit. The Nilahue River is nine times its normal temperature. Observers say the rivers now look like hot springs, with steam rising from their surfaces.

This spells disaster for Chile's fishing industry, which generates significant export revenue. The head of the National Fishing Service reported that 4.5 million fish have been killed in the Nilahue River alone, and 5 million healthy salmon have had to be relocated to a safer place. Cattle-ranching, agriculture and tourism are also threatened.