Volcanoes, Eruptions, and Earthquakes…Oh My!

Not long back, I posted about the eruption of Volcano Villarrica in Pucon, Chile, just 70 miles north of us.

It was an experience worth memorializing because even in Chile, the country with the most active volcanoes in the world, eruptions don’t take place all that often.

Chile is home to 500 volcanoes in total, with 123 of them active.  If you look at a list of the dates of last eruption for each of these volcanoes, most are actually uncertain (meaning more than hundreds of years ago).  A few occurred in the 1980’s, 1990’s, and 2000’s, but so few that the chances of any eruption happening while we were here was pretty slim.

Moreover, the Chileans don’t live in fear of these volcanoes.  They trek them, bungee jump into the craters, downhill ski on their slopes, white water raft through their rivers, and vacation all around them.  And understandably so, for they are stunning. 

Therefore, we’ve never been scared either.

In fact, it had been a plan of ours to hike Volcano Villarrica before we left.

Okay, um, pass?

In any event, shortly after the Villarrica eruption, more additional incredible events took place.

In late March, and on through April, Villarrica continued to display seismic activity, at times even shooting lava out of the top.  The surrounding area was on orange alert (as mentioned in a recent post) for over a month.



Then, during this same time frame, Volcano Calbuco, near Puerto Varas (just 2 hours south of us by car) erupted suddenly and without any warning on April 22, 2015. It hadn’t erupted since 1972.


Tom took this just as he left work-over 100 miles away from the volcano

This was a mere 3 weeks after I visited Puerto Varas with my friend Sarah, having dined within view of the volcano.  volcano15-erupted without any warningvolcano14-seen from up to 100 miles awayvolcano14-calbuco is one of the 3 most dangerous

volcano5Calbuco is calbucoconsidered one of the 3 most dangerous volcanoes in Chile, and has 6 mouths.  (Villarrica also made the most dangerous list).

And we live right in the middle of the two. (Though fortunately not close enough to either to suffer much in the way of consequences).

Witnessing the blast from 100 miles away in Argentina

The blast was massive.  Two hundred million tons of smoke and ash shot up 9 miles into the atmosphere, proceeding to spread as far away as Brazil and causing cancellation of flights as far away as Buenos Aires.

*Fun Fact and shining example of the Chilean/Argentinian rivalry:  apparently most of the time when a volcano in Chile erupts, the ash blows east and drops on Argentina.  And so there is a joke in Chile that because they believe Argentina wrongly assumed ownership of it’s portion of Patagonia (the area that possesses natural gas), the Chilean’s now “dump” on Argentina every time a volcano erupts.  

volcano blow

A satellite of the ash….blowing east

In any event, the eruption LAYERED the surrounding towns in ash, seriously damaging livestock, crops, and the salmon industry.


But that was only just the beginning.

Calbuco erupted 2 more times within the next week.  Thankfully, neither as strong as the first, but all spewing more ash into the air, which meant we always had the risk the ash would come our way.  Our face masks were on standby.


The 2nd eruption, at night

Luckily for us, it seemed as if the ash went everywhere but directly over Valdivia; making it as far as Santiago-600 miles north. We were actually able to see it pass east of the city.  Nonetheless, local schools were canceled after the 2nd eruption out of an abundance of caution.


The ash visible from our neighborhood


Valdivia, with the ash (brown) passing behind it…


Class suspended for “ceniza”/ash

And as if somehow we weren’t scared enough, we experienced our first and only earthquake in Chile shortly after the eruptions.  (And I wouldn’t mind keeping it that way, given the potential for massive earth movements here!).

As Tom and I lay in bed one night, we felt a brief, 10 second shake.  It didn’t even wake the children, and it only registered in at a 4.7.


I say “only” because in Chile, that isn’t even considered an earthquake; it’s a temblor.  Only 8’s and above are deserving of the title terremoto, or earthquake.


Anyway, while it felt a little end of times-ish around here that month, the earth has calmed down and everything returned to normal.  Now let’s just keep it that way! 

I will say, in a country where they experience nearly every form of natural disaster: earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and floods, Chileans unquestionably have grit.  They don’t live in fear, and when disaster occurs, they are professionals at uniting and overcoming.


Pretty amazing stuff.



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