April 5, 2009 / 5:46 PM / 11 years ago

Chile volcano eruption revs up, ash Argentina-bound

* Volcanic eruption intensifies

* Officials fear mud avalanches as lava melts snow

* 71 people evacuated

SANTIAGO, April 5 (Reuters) - Chile’s Llaima volcano, one of South America’s most active, belched ash 4 miles (7 km) into the sky that was blown towards neighboring Argentina in an intensifying eruption that prompted more evacuations.

Llaima, which is in Chile’s picturesque lake region about 435 miles (700 km) south of the capital Santiago, began spitting lava in a fresh bout of activity on Friday night. It erupted fiercely on Jan. 1, 2008, and has expelled rock and ash sporadically since then.

State National Emergency Office ONEMI said a towering cloud of ash was being blown towards Argentina, extending 62 miles (100 km) southeast of the volcano.

"The volcano continues to permanently erupt with explosions, lava flows and ash," Helia Vargas, an official with the state National Emergency Office, told Reuters.

"More people were evacuated overnight because of the risk of mud avalanches as the lava melts snow on the volcano," she said. Lava was flowing down the volcano’s sides in three directions for hundreds of meters (yards), Vargas said.

ONEMI said 71 people have been evacuated from the vicinity of volcano, which is surrounded by small towns and villages as well as the Conguillio national park.

Rains overnight and ash have swollen a river near the volcano and swept away a pedestrian bridge, but there were no immediate reports of other damage.

Chile’s chain of about 2,000 volcanoes is the world’s second-largest after Indonesia. Some 50 to 60 are on record as having erupted, and 500 are potentially active.

The 10,253-foot (3,127-metre) Llaima was the second to erupt in the past year.

The Chaiten volcano, 760 miles (1,200 km) south of Santiago in the Patagonia region, erupted last May for the first time in thousands of years, spewing ash, gas and molten rock and prompting the evacuation of thousands of people.

Ash from Chaiten soared 20 miles (32 km) into the sky, swelled rivers and caused floods that damaged dozens of houses and destroyed much of the nearby town of the same name. The ash cloud from Chaiten coated towns in Argentina, and was visible from space.

Chaiten erupted again in February, leading to the evacuation of residents who had rejected a government plan to abandon the town and rebuild it a few miles (km) away. (Reporting by Simon Gardner and Antonio de la Jara, editing by Vicki Allen)

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