Chilean volcano grounds flights, coats ski slopes

Booming explosions echoed across the Andes as toxic gases belched up from a three-mile-long fissure in the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcanic complex yesterday - a ridge between two craters just west of the Chilean-Argentine border that began erupting Saturday.

Winds blew a six-mile-high cloud of ash all the way to the Atlantic Ocean and even into southern Buenos Aires province, hundreds of miles to the northeast. Authorities in Chile went house to house, trying to persuade stragglers near the volcano to leave because of an increasing danger of toxic gas and flash floods.

By yesterday, about 4,000 people had been evacuated from more than 22 communities. They began fleeing as swarms of earthquakes Saturday heralded the eruption and hundreds more fled yesterday to shelters farther away.

Some refused to leave, wanting to protect their homes and livestock. Chile's verdant lakes region is a center for dairy farming, with more than 9,000 cows and sheep.
Deputy Interior Minister Rodrigo Ubilla said about 50 families in the Rininahue area refused to abandon their homes.

"Everything is prepared with shelter and transportation for them to immediately leave the danger zone," added Vicente Nunez, director of Chile's emergency preparedness office, urging them to leave. Just north of the complex of volcanoes, the city of Futrono and the communities of Lago Ranco and Entre Rios were particularly vulnerable to flash floods.

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