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Chile Volcano Grounds Flights in Argentina

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Domestic and international flights from Argentina's two busiest airports were suspended Tuesday due to volcanic ash from the erupting Puyehue volcano in Chile, officials said.

An airport official said 32 flights were canceled at the Buenos Aires (EZE) international airport and 30 others were canceled at the Aeroparque Jorge Newbery (AEP), which has flights to domestic and regional destinations.

Airports in southern Argentina have been closed since Saturday's eruption of the volcano in neighboring southern Chile.

The eruption forced the nearby Argentine resort town of Bariloche, population 50,000, to declare a state of emergency Saturday and close its airport.

It also forced a major border crossing point to close due to low visibility, and dropped ash on the upscale Argentine resort town of Villa La Angostura.

The airport official, who declined to be identified, said a committee would be meeting in the afternoon to decide on future flights.

Flagship carrier Aerolineas Argentinas and its subsidiary Austral as well as Lan Chile, announced earlier the suspension of its flights „until further notice.“

Meanwhile in Sao Paulo, the Brazilian airports authority told AFP that 10 flights bound for Argentina were canceled due to the ash.

The rains that began late Monday could prove a disastrous mix with the fine volcanic dust spewing from the volcano, 870 kilometers (540 miles) south of the capital Santiago near the border with Argentina, in Chile's Lago Ranco area.

So far 4,000 people have been evacuated from 22 rural Chilean communities surrounding the volcano, which rumbled to life on Saturday after showing no activity since 1960, when it erupted following a magnitude 9.5 earthquake.

Northwesterly winds on Tuesday pushed the giant column of ash over parts of southern Argentina, as Chilean officials visited houses urging residents to leave the remote region below the volcano, which stands at 2,240 meters (7,350 feet) above sea level.

High winds blew ash in a ever widening corridor across Argentina to the capital, grounding most air travel to and from the country for much of the day Wednesday also.

Since airborne ash can severely damage jet engines, Aerolineas Argentinas and Austral, the country's state-owned international and domestic airlines, canceled all flights within Argentina as well as to and from other countries. At least six international carriers also suspended flights between Buenos Aires and cities in the United States, Europe and South America, and flights from Chile over Argentine territory also were suspended.

Later Wednesday afternoon, Aerolineas announced it was slowly resuming flights from Buenos Aires to the north and east, areas beyond the reach of the thickest part of the plume. But airports closer to the volcano were ordered closed through at least Sunday. LAN Airlines also was resuming flights over Argentine territory.

The cancellations left the usually bustling international and domestic airports in Buenos Aires nearly deserted as aviation regulators met to study the weather patterns. Geologists have said the Cordon Caulle volcano could keep erupting for several weeks.


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