Monday, May 19, 2008

Flood - Chile (Santiago) MAY

Santiago, May 18 (EFE).- Seventeen days after the Chaiten volcano began its so far uninterrupted eruption dumping uncounted tons of ash on the surrounding area, a wind-, rain- and snowstorm is also helping destroy the nearby town of the same name.

The community is "a ghost town" after the complete evacuation of its residents due to the steady emission of ash and the periodic blasts issuing from the volcano, but on Sunday the town began to flood as heavy rains pummeled the zone.

The governor of Palena province, where Chaiten is located, Sergio Galilea, said at a press conference that the volcano's activity was practically the same on Sunday as it had been over the previous days.

He also confirmed that the height of the smoke and ash column spewing from the fire mountain was still some 11 kilometers (8.8 miles).

"The enemy (i.e. the volcano) continues to be the same and the situation has been complicated by the storms that have lashed the area in the past few hours," Galilea said.

According to reports broadcast on Radio Bio Bio, the level of water in the Blanco River has increased considerably and flooding in the area is more severe than authorities noted last week.

Galilea said that thanks to photographs taken by the Carabineros - Chile's militarized police, who managed to enter the town of Chaiten on reconnaissance - "it would not be an exaggeration to say that about 95 percent of the area of the city is affected by different levels of flooding."

The storm has also made it impossible to enter the town of Futaleufu, located 154 kilometers (93 miles) from the volcano, from which many people were also evacuated because of the rain of ash that fell in the area.

The air force has not been able to overfly the towns due to all the ash in the air.

Now, the heavy precipitation - including snow - has cut the routes linking Futaleufu with Chaiten, Palena and Villa Santa Lucia, among other towns in southern Chile.

The eruption of the Chaiten volcano, which rises 960 meters (about 3,120 feet) 1,220 kilometers (750 miles) south of Santiago, forced the evacuation of thousands of people living around it, and since then the mountain has maintained a steady emission of ash that has blanketed the area.

On Sunday, the National Geology and Mining Service said that it will install new teletransmission measurement stations supplied by the U.S. Geological Survey in the area to monitor the volcano's activity.

The network will allow authorities to observe from a single central location - Queilen on Chiloe Island - the reports from all monitoring stations.

Defense Minister Jose Goñi said that the navy and air force will be assigned to operate the devices, while the army and the highway authorities will evaluate the condition of the local roads and bridges that have been affected by the rain of ash as well as the weather conditions.

Chaiten volcano is one of about 3,000 fire mountains in Chile, of which approximately 55 are active.

Chile lies on the southeastern portion of the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, where the Nazca and South American tectonic plates collide, making the country one of the most active seismic and volcanic zones in the world. EFE - Source

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