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Chile ski station evacuated as volcano erupts

CHERQUENCO, Chile (Reuters) - Chile on Wednesday evacuated the remaining occupants of a southern ski station as Llaima volcano, one of South America’s most active, spewed lava for a second day prompting fears of landslides, officials said.

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Television footage showed a bright orange streak of lava stretching 1.25 miles (2 km) down a slope of the 10,253-foot (3,125 meter)-high volcano about 435 miles (700 km) south of the capital Santiago.

Snow-capped Llaima, near Chile’s picturesque lake region, erupted violently on New Year’s Day, forcing the evacuation of some tourists and residents from the surrounding Conguillio National Park, and then belched ash and lava in February.

The government on Wednesday ordered a 9-mile (15 km) exclusion zone around the volcano and the evacuation of around 40 people.

“All the people at the ski station have been evacuated,” said Juan Cayupi, a volcanologist at the state National Emergency Office. “Lava continues to flow, but a dark area has also been observed on the side of the volcano, which implies a small quantity of ash has fallen.”

He said a small ash column was visible above the volcano.

The fear is that snow on the volcano could melt because of the eruption and trigger torrents of water, other material and possibly landslides.

Police said only the exclusion zone was being evacuated for now.

“You still have to worry ... (given) what we saw in January,” a woman who lives in Cherquenco, a village 11 miles (18 kms) from the volcano, told state television channel TVN.

Other residents took it in their stride.

“We are used to this,” said 77-year-old farmer Ramon as he watched the volcano through binoculars. “But unlike in January, there is plenty of snow on the volcano and that is what can cause damage.”

LLaima’s renewed activity comes after Chaiten volcano, 760 miles (1,220 km) south of Santiago in Chilean Patagonia, started erupting on May 2 for the first time in thousands of years, spewing ash, gas and molten rock.

The nearby town of Chaiten has been caked in volcanic ash and the volcano continues to emit hot gas and ash.

Ash from Chaiten, which initially soared as high as 20 miles (30 km), as well as rain swelled rivers in the area. Flooding damaged dozens of houses, carrying some wooden homes off their foundations.

Chile’s chain of some 2,000 volcanoes is the world’s second-largest after Indonesia’s. Around 50 to 60 are recorded to have erupted, while a total of 500 are regarded to be potentially active.

Reporting by Antonio de la Jara and Monica Vargas, Writing by Simon Gardner