Calbuco, near the popular Patagonian tourist centres of Puerto Montt and Puerto Varas has erupted for the first time since 1972. Calbuco is one of Chile’s largest and most active volcanoes, but scientists have been taken by surprise by the recent eruptions. Alejandro Verges, an emergency director for the region, said Calbuco had not been under any special form of observation.
The first eruption occurred at about 6pm local time on Wednesday 22 April, and sprayed a thick plume of ash and smoke several miles into the sky. This later formed a spectacular mushroom cloud which glowed red as the sun went down, and was illuminated by occasional lightning bolts during the night.
Canadian expat, Trevor Moffat, who lives only 6 miles from Calbuco described the event with gripping detail: “It sounded like a big tractor trailer passing by the road, rattling and shaking, guttural rumbling …We left everything there, grabbed my kid, my dog, got in the car with my wife.”
So far there have been no casualties but authorities are taking the eruptions seriously: “In this situation, with the eruption column so high, the main risk is that it collapses, falls due to gravity because of its own weight and causes a pyroclastic flow,” said Gabriel Orozco, a government volcanologist. For the uninitiated, a pyroclastic flow is “a superheated current of gas and rock that can destroy nearly everything in its path and travel at speeds upwards of 200km to 300km per hour.”
Even if the dreaded pyroclastic flow does not materialise, the eruptions will still have consequences for the region. The ash could very likely contaminate the drinking water in the area, and residents are said to be stocking up on this precious commodity. The ash also makes flying difficult, and at the time of writing Chile’s national air-carrier, LAN, had cancelled all flights into and out of Puerto Montt.
Located on the ‘Pacific Rim of Fire’ Chile has the second most active volcanoes in the world (after Indonesia) and there are frequent eruptions in the country, including a high-profile one at Villarica last month. However, authorities have said that the Calbuco eruption is a far more serious event.
The area around Calbuco is known as the ‘Gateway to Patagonia’ and is less than 60 miles as the crow flies from the Argentine city of Bariloche – one of the most populated places in the region. Puerto Montt itself has an endearing, unpolished working class feel to but it is most notable for its role as a transport hub. Puerto Varas, on the other hand, is a picturesque and cutesy tourist destination in its own right, with spectacular lake views and loads to do: depending on the season, there’s great kayaking, canyoning, climbing, fishing, hiking and even skiing. The forgotten island of Chiloe is one of our all-time favorite Patagonian destinations – read all about it here.
Unless you’re in the immediate vicinity of Calbuco, the eruption should have no impact on your Patagonia travel plans, but we certainly consider it noteworthy news.