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Chilean volcano eruption increases; officials order total evacuation of area

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Associated Press Writer

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- The Chaiten volcano spewed lava and blasted ash more than 12 miles (20 kilometers) into the sky on Tuesday, prompting a total evacuation of the provincial capital and other settlements.

President Michelle Bachelet interrupted a speech in the capital to announce that "the volcano is exploding so a total evacuation of the town of Chaiten has been ordered."

Rains following the eruption have carpeted surrounding areas in ash and mud. Hard hit is Chaiten, a small provincial capital of wooden houses and cobblestone streets just 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the volcano in southern Chile.

More than 4,000 people had fled earlier and the few remaining residents were being transferred to two navy ships.

Palena province Gov. Fernando Aguilar said some people were resisting, but "everybody must leave."

The volcano's five-day eruption has sent a thick column of ash into the stratosphere, streaming across Patagonia to the Atlantic.

Carmen Fernandez, head of Chile's Emergency Bureau, said the final evacuation order covers 300 people, including police, soldiers, emergency personnel, a few reporters and some residents.

Fernandez said the amount of lava emerging from the volcano "is very small and very thick, so it is moving very slowly."

Authorities were also evacuating the ash-coated town of Futaleufu, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Chaiten near the Argentine border. Many people there wore surgical masks or cloth across their mouth to guard against the gritty ash.

Officials in Argentina also reported ash fall over wide areas in the southern part of the country.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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