Chilean Volcano Erupts in the Early Morning

The 9,000-foot volcano spewed ash, smoke and lava high into the air

Galen Rowell/Corbis

In Villarrica, Chile, early in the morning, a volcano began erupting against the still-dark sky. It has already prompted over 3,400 evacuations,  and now authorities are warning that up to 20,000 more locals may have to be evacuated as the volcano spews lava, smoke and ash.

This isn’t the first time the 9,000-foot volcano has wreaked havoc. Though the volcano’s last major eruption began in 1984, the Guardian reports that it is considered one of Latin America’s most active. In 1971, between 15 and 30 people died after a poisonous gas cloud swept down from the volcano.

Tuesday’s eruption produced heavy smoke, lava flows and several dramatic bursts. Chile’s president, Michelle Bachelet, has urged calm and will visit the area soon. In the meantime, residents are capturing spectacular images of a volcano in explosive action. This gallery shows smoke, glowing lava and massive explosions on the peak.

According the mayor of a nearby town, the BBC reports, the volcanic activity calmed after about 20 minutes. But that doesn't mean the danger is past. As the Associated Press points out, the eruption's caused the snow and ice on the mountain's top to start melting. Already rivers are starting to rise, and mudslides are a worry, too.

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