One of South America’s most active volcanoes erupted early Tuesday in southern Chile, spewing heavy smoke into the air as lava surged down its slopes, prompting authorities to evacuate thousands of people.
The Villarrica volcano erupted around 3 a.m. local time, according to the National Emergency Office, which issued a red alert and ordered evacuations. Local media showed images of the volcano bursting at the top, glowing in the dark amid heavy smoke and rivers of lava. Authorities worried that mudslides caused by melting snow could endanger nearby communities, but no injuries were reported.
The 9,000 foot (2,847-meter) volcano in Chile’s central valley, 400 miles (670 kilometers) south of Santiago, sits above the small city of Pucon, which has a population of about 22,000 people.
“It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” 29-year-old Australian tourist Travis Armstrong said in a telephone interview from Pucon. “I’ve never seen a volcano erupt and it was spewing lava and ash hundreds of meters into the air. Lightning was striking down at the volcano from the ash cloud that formed from the eruption.”
A spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint reports that all LDS missionaries serving in the affected area are safe and accounted for.
“A small number of missionaries have been moved temporarily to ensure their safety,” the spokesman said. “Our prayers are with the people in the surrounding area as they deal with this natural disaster.”
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