Chile Reporting slider — 11 March 2015

Photos by Heidi Hillis and Fields Marshall

3 March 2015.  Curacaví, Chile.

Heidi Hillis is an American from Oregon. She lives with her husband and children in Pucon, Chile. Heidi has lived there for 10 years where she and her husband operate a business where they take the shells from farm-raised mussels and turn them into calcium fertilizer.

Their house is 18 km from the always-steaming Villarica Volcano. The volcano sits between the small tourist towns of Pucon and Villarica.  There is a ski resort there. Avis and Hertz car rental and Orvis Outfitters are there too, testaments to the influx of tourists.  The towns and the volcano are located along the picturesque Villarica lake with its black sand beaches.  (Click here for a view of the volcano, lake, and towns on Google Maps.)

A few days earlier this week, the Chilean geographic services sounded a warning that magma was moving up the volcano and seismic activity indicated it was about to erupt.  Anticipating something, Heidi says she left her shades open a couple of days later as, “There had been some activity that night.”

She said that the volcano lit up before it erupted, “I have lived here for 10 years. It went for a period of years where you could see a glow at night.” Then it went dark.  “Only the last week or so it was starting to glow at night (again).”

At 3:10 AM, Heidi woke abruptly and looked out the window to see lava spewing 3 km into the air. “It’s so spectacular to see something like that at night. Bright red glowing lava shot straight up into to the air. It went 3 km. It went on for about 45 minutes.”

She wasn’t worried because the magma shot straight up and the wind was blowing the ash cloud in the other direction.

The government ordered the evacuation of everyone within 10 km.

Heidi says she was far more stressed out, as were all the other people in the area, when the military arrived the next day. Then helicopters were flying overhead and the President arrived. “The next day was when every one was panicking.”  She said despite the presence of the authorities, not much information was communicated.

On the scale of volcanic eruptions, this one was 2 out of 8.  Heidi says, “I cannot image what an 5 or even a 3 would be like. I will probably never experience that again.”  This is the first time Villarica has erupted in 40 years.

Asked to comment on the government response she said,  “They did a good job. My husband is a geologist. They called it. They called the whole thing.  I feel much more confident in their abilities.”

Fields Marshall lives about 13 km from the volcano.  He and Heidi snapped the photos shown atop this article.  Fields is an American who operates different websites dedicated to technology.

He said:

“It was both cool and scary. It was a moonlit night and the volcano was rumbling and dogs were howling and barking from where I was.  The ash cloud was as tall as the volcano. The ash cloud went towards Curarehue, Argentina. Friends have found pumice stone on the ground so at least some of the ash cloud fallout was pretty heavy.

“I live about 13 km away from the center of the Volcano.  Heidi is a bit further.  We have a friend who is close, at 7 km, who stayed but was evacuated after the eruption.  I was both frightened and in awe. It was way cooler than any fireworks show. However, it was immediately obvious that the ash cloud was going away from us.  In 30 minutes the mountain calmed down. ”

Now the government has reduced the alert from orange to yellow.  Heidi  says, “There’s not much seismic activity. There’s a bit of steam, not out of the ordinary.”

Only in Chile, which is home to 105 active volcanoes, would you say that a steaming volcano is “ordinary.”



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