Chile’s Villarrica volcano erupted in powerful fashion on Tuesday morning, prompting the evacuation of thousands people in the neighboring city of Pucon, which is home to 22,000 people.
Photos of the blast show ash and lava exploding high into the starry night sky. The eruption of hot gas into the atmosphere prompted lightning from the pyrocumulus.
“It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” 29-year-old Australian tourist Travis Armstrong told the AP in a telephone interview from Pucon. “I’ve never seen a volcano erupt, and it was spewing lava and ash hundreds of meters into the air. Lightning was striking down at the volcano from the ash cloud that formed from the eruption.” The AP writes:
The Villarrica volcano erupted around 3 a.m. local time, according to the National Emergency Office, which issued a red alert and ordered evacuations. Local media showed images of the volcano bursting at the top, glowing in the dark amid heavy smoke and rivers of lava. Authorities worried that mudslides caused by melting snow could endanger nearby communities.
Chilean authorities had issued an orange alert on Monday because of increased activity at the volcano. About 3,500 people have been evacuated so far, including tourists, said Interior and Security Minister Rodrigo Penailillo.
Penailillo warned that the eruption was causing numerous rivers in the area to rise as snow along the sides of the volcano began melting. Villarrica is covered by a glacier cap covering some 40 square kilometers (15 square miles) and snow from about 1,500 meters (about 5,000 feet) on up.
Villarrica, one of Chile’s most active volcanoes, is just over 450 miles south of Santiago — the westernmost in a trio of volcanoes in the Chilean Central Valley.