In my academic field of geography, one of the specialties is natural hazards, a topic which was never central to my own research but which always attracted my attention. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where we felt the massive Alaska earthquake of 1964 and the cataclysmic eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980 (though I had moved away by then, a friend in Seattle, 96 miles to the north, told me that he thought the sound was someone slamming his front door very hard). I’ve lived through many earthquakes in the Bay Area, most notably the 1989 Loma Prieta (World Series) event.
And, of course, I’ve spent plenty of time in Chile, which has given me the opportunity to write about earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and floods (especially in recent weeks). Now, near the southern mainland city of Puerto Varas, one of my favorite Chilean destinations, the 2,003-meter (6,570-ft) Volcán Calbuco (pictured in the BBC video above) has upstaged the more northerly Volcán Villarrica, about which I wrote only recently.
In fact Calbuco (pictured above in quieter times) was one of my backup climbing choices after the recent closure of Villarrica to climbers, but I never actually made it Varas this last summer (though I passed nearby en route to Puerto Montt for the ferry to Puerto Natales). After Calbuco unexpectedly blew yesterday, I wrote my German friend Andreas La Rosé of Puerto Varas’s Casa Azul hostel to ask the effect there, and he seemed unconcerned: “Until now we have south wind and no rain. So no ash! In the moment everything is fine!”
That, however, was not the case for residents of Ensenada, a picturesque town at the east end of Lago Llanquihue. From Puerto Octay, on the north side of the lake, Armin and Nadia Dübendorfer of Hostal Zapato Amarillo wrote me this morning that “the volcano has settled down for the moment. The Ensenada area is seriously affected and was evacuated yesterday afternoon. Last night there were tremors and [a second] eruption was powerful, with thunder and lightning, the column of ash red with reflection from the lava.”
My friend Franz Schirmer, a Swiss-Chilean who owns Petrohué Lodge about 20 km east of Ensenada, sounded almost non-plussed: “Lots of noise, sand, ash and a spectacular lightning storm last night. Everything’s fine and now we’re working on removing the sand…” Interestingly, he referred me to his Twitter account, which included photos of him and his children at Calbuco’s crater two weeks ago; I wonder when – if ever - I’ll get that opportunity to do that hike.
Meanwhile, most of the ash seems headed eastward and, across the Argentine border, the residents of Bariloche are preparing themselves for an ashfall that could match that of the Cordón Caulle eruption of 2011. That could affect the upcoming ski season, as it did then, and air traffic to and from Argentine Patagonia.