ENSENADA, Chile — Mighty blasts from the looming Calbuco volcano have left Ensenada an ash-drowned ghost town, abandoned by its 1,500 residents. And officials warned Friday they might have a long stay away.
The volcano, which had been dormant for more than four decades, erupted Wednesday, spewing a plume of ash about 9 miles (15 kilometers) high. A second, spectacular outburst came early Thursday, with lightning crackling through a dark sky turned reddish orange by the explosion.
The head of the National Mining and Geology Service said Friday that the volcano's eruptive process could last weeks and even months.
"What I can say for certain is that this process is not going to end now," the service's director, Rodrigo Alvarez said. "It's highly likely that we will have other eruptions, maybe not with the same amount of energy, but with activity that can be worrisome."
At the foot of the volcano, Ensenada was covered in thick soot, raising concerns that the ash could contaminate water, cause respiratory illnesses and ground more flights. Some roofs had collapsed under the weight of the ash.
Just about 10 miles (16 kilometers) from Calbuco's peak, Ensenada is within the official evacuation zone, and most residents complied. But about 30 refused to evacuate because of worries about their homes and animals.
Ensenada was eerily empty except for a few residents using masks against the ash and the occasional horse or dog roaming its only street.
Daniel Patricio Gonzalez left town with his wife and children, but he returned Thursday night to assess the damage. The roof at the restaurant he manages had caved in.
"This hurts a bit, but there's nothing to do against nature. The important thing is that my family is fine," Gonzalez said.
Authorities worried that mudslides caused by melting snow could endanger nearby communities, but no injuries were reported,
The 6,500 foot (2,000-meter) Calbuco, which last erupted in 1972, lies near the cities of Puerto Varas and Puerto Montt, about 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) south of Santiago.
President Michelle Bachelet, who visited the area Thursday, declared a state of emergency.
"We don't have any problems with supplies, water or sewage up to now," she said. "Our problem is a respiratory one, from inhaling all of this ash, and the fact that this ash could generate some sort of environmental contamination."
LATAM, Sky and other airlines said they have resumed flights to and from Puerto Montt after cancelling over fears airborne ash could damage jet engines.
Winds blew ash in a widening arc across to Argentina. Cars and streets were coated with a layer of ash in Villa La Angostura, Argentina, a small town about 56 miles (90 kilometers) northeast of Calbuco.
"We are praying that the volcanic activity will be as short as possible," said Mayor Roberto Cacault.
Luis Andres Henao reported from Santiago. Gonzalo Keogan in Villa La Angostura, Argentina, and Eva Vergara and Mauricio Cuevas in Santiago contributed to this report.
Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao