SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Volcano Villarrica in southern Chile went quiet on Tuesday after an eruption that sent a plume of ash and lava high into the sky in the early hours put Chile on high alert.
The volcano, located near the popular tourist resort of Pucon around 750 km (460 miles) south of the capital Santiago, is one of South America’s most active. It last erupted in 2000.
A column of ash and rock particles shot up to 3 km (nearly 2 miles) into the sky at around 3 a.m. (01:00 EST). However, the initial violent eruption was short-lived, and geologists said a major lava flow was unlikely.
Over 4,000 people were evacuated overnight as a preventive measure, said Interior Minister Rodrigo Penailillo.
Most have since returned to their homes, but the government said an exclusion zone would remain in place until Wednesday for a 10km radius around the mountain, affecting around 400 people.
Ash from the volcano was well under the flight paths used by commercial airliners, and flights were unaffected, said Juan Carlos Rojas, air transit head at the government’s civil aeronautics division.
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet traveled to the affected region and pledged money to help farmers, already hit by drought after one of the driest winters since records began.
The area relies largely on agriculture, paper production and tourism. Mines in the top copper exporter are mostly located far to the north.
Chile, situated on the so-called Pacific Rim of Fire, has the second largest chain of volcanoes in the world after Indonesia, including around 500 that are potentially active.
In 2011, the eruption of Puyehue sent an ash cloud into the atmosphere that disrupted flights in neighboring Argentina for months.
Villarrica national park in the Los Rios region of Chile is a scenic area of lakes, temperate rainforest and volcanoes that is one of Chile’s top tourist attractions.
Pucon serves as a center for hotels and adventure tourism, including dozens who normally climb snowcapped Villarrica every day. But most tourists had left by Tuesday morning and there were few people around, said British holidaymaker Edward Reilley.
“The volcano is quiet now, very calm. You wouldn’t know anything had happened,” he said. Locals didn’t seem worried, he added.
Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien and Antonio de la Jara; Editing by Crispian Balmer and W Simon