Authorities evacuated hundreds of people from villages in southern Chile after a snowcapped volcano considered dormant for thousands of years erupted. The blast sent minor earthquakes rippling through the region.
The 1,200-metre Chaiten volcano belched fire and ash Thursday night, causing more than 60 small tremors in the Los Lagos region, 1,200 kilometres south of the capital, Santiago, the government's Emergency Bureau said.
Mild seismic activity could continue for the next several days, said bureau director Carmen Fernandez.
Chile's government declared a state of emergency, evacuating as many as 1,500 people from nearby villages and the town of Chaiten, just over 10 kilometres from the volcano, the bureau said.
The amount of ash falling in Chaiten had dropped considerably by Friday afternoon, and the wind was moving it southeast, Emergency Bureau volcanologist Juan Cayupi told the Associated Press by telephone in Santiago.
Ash from the eruption was polluting water supplies and prompting officials to hand out more than 10,000 protective masks, said Interior Minister Edmundo Perez.
Military, police, doctors and seismologists travelled to the region by sea to avoid the area's remote mountain roads, Los Lagos Governor Sergio Galilea said.
Winds also carried ash over the Andes mountains to neighbouring Argentina, where the Education Ministry suspended classes in several towns, including Esquel and Trevelin - two popular Patagonian tourist destinations.