By EDUARDO GALLARDO
Associated Press Writer
SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) -- First they saved the people. Then they rescued the dogs and cats. Finally they went in for the fish -- 6,000 tons of them -- threatened by a volcanic eruption in southern Chile.
Some 600,000 salmon were being moved by boats Tuesday from a fish farm just eight miles (13 kilometers) from the Chaiten volcano, according to Carlos Odebret, a spokesman for Salmon Chile, the association of private salmon industries.
He said that farm was the last of several to be evacuated because officials recently reduced the size of the prohibited-entry zone around the volcano, making it accessible again to workers.
The volcano began erupting on May 2, spewing vast columns of ash and gas that spread across South America from the Pacific to the Atlantic and beyond.
All 4,500 residents of the town of Chaiten were evacuated soon after the eruption began and the future of the town is now uncertain. It has been flooded by a river that overflowed its banks, damaging scores of houses, and it has been coated in ash.
Authorities rescued hundreds of pets eight days after the eruption and removed thousands of heads of livestock. They then authorized the removal of the salmon.
Odebret told The Associated Press by telephone that small teams worked for days in the salmon operation, aided by the navy, which had speedboats on hand "in case something happened that forced a quick departure."
He said the relocated fish amount to only about 1.5 percent of the annual production of Chile's salmon industry, which has exports exceeding US$2 billion (euro1.2 billion) a year.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)