* Ash carpets lakeside tourist towns in Patagonia
* Eruption could last several months
By Magali Cervantes
VILLA LA ANGOSTURA, Argentina, June 16 On the
eve of the winter tourist season, the Argentine resort town of
Villa La Angostura should be blanketed white. Instead, its log
cabins and forests are carpeted in gray volcanic ash.
A volcano across the border in Chile's Puyehue-Cordon
Caulle chain erupted on June 4 after being dormant for decades,
sending a towering cloud of ash into the air and forcing the
cancellation of hundreds of flights as far away as Australia.
Air traffic is gradually getting back to normal, but many
residents of hard-hit Patagonian towns are without electricity
and water, fearing for livestock left without grazing pasture
and for the start of the southern hemisphere's winter season.
Mauro Memmo, owner of a tourist bungalow complex, is
battling to clear rooftops to prevent them from collapsing
under the weight of the heavy grit.
"We'll have to use shovels and wheelbarrows, it's the only
way," Memmo said. "I just hope we don't get more ash falling."
Officials in Villa La Angostura, which lies 990 miles
(1,600 km) southwest of Buenos Aires, have asked for the area
to be declared an emergency zone to free up aid, and the Health
Ministry has deployed psychologists to counsel anxious
"When you're faced with a natural disaster, the only option
is to bear it and deal with it," Mayor Ricardo Alonso told
Local airports remain shut and hotels have few guests in
San Carlos de Bariloche, one of Argentina's most important
tourist destinations and a favorite with Brazilian visitors.
"Tourist arrivals have been badly affected, including
Brazilians, other Latin Americans and Americans. Tourism's down
80 percent," said Viviana Risso, manager of a Bariloche hotel.
The town sits on the shores of the Nahuel Huapi lake,
tinged gray in contrast to its habitual deep blue. "People are
saying this could last for a couple of years," Risso said.
The airline havoc of recent days caused losses of between
$2.8 million and $3.5 million to state-run Aerolineas
Argentinas and Chile's LAN LAN.SN(LFL.N), leading daily La
Nacion said, citing an unnamed industry source.
ASH 'FOR A WHILE'
Far from Argentina's famous Pampas cattle-ranching
heartland, sheep graze the Patagonian highlands and farmers are
battling to get fodder to animals unable to graze pastures
buried under up to 1 foot (30 cm) of ash.
Newspapers have shown dead sheep lying in ashen fields,
estimating possible losses of some $100 million. The government
has sent farming officials to study the impact on livestock,
Economy Minister Amado Boudou said.
"We're carrying out a detailed analysis district by
district," he told reporters late on Wednesday.
Winds that have been blowing the ash cloud eastward since
the eruption almost two weeks ago are forecast to change
direction over the coming days, bringing some relief to Villa
La Angostura but raising the risk of raining ash over Chile.
Volcanology experts think the volcano could disrupt air
travel sporadically for some time. [ID:nN14243691]
"They're calculating we could have three weeks of strong
activity and then three months when the volcano's going to
remain active," said Marcos Arretche, a civil defense worker in
Villa La Angostura. "We're going to have ashes for a while."
(Additional reporting by Guido Nejamkis and Helen Popper;
Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Xavier Briand)