4 Mar 2015

Chile's Villarrica volcano erupts

10:53 am on 4 March 2015

Southern Chile's Villarrica volcano has erupted sending a plume of ash and lava three kilometres into the sky.

The 2800m volcano, one of South America's most active, began erupting in the early hours of Tuesday, prompting authorities to declare a red alert.

Chile's Villarrica volcano is one of the most active in South America.

Chile's Villarrica volcano is one of the most active in South America. Photo: AFP / ATONCHILE / Carlos Rocuant

Chilean authorities said more than 3000 people had been evacuated as a preventative measure.

After daylight, pictures showed intermittent steam and gases spewing from an opening on the side of the volcano and rivulets of lava pouring down the mountain slopes.

Villarrica is located about 750 kilometres south of the capital Santiago and draws crowds of tourists each year, with hikers climbing its slopes in the summer months to see inside its crater.

Its last major eruptions were in 1984 and 2000.

Chile, situated on the so-called Pacific Rim of Fire, has the second largest chain of volcanoes in the world after Indonesia, including around 500 that are potentially active.

In 2011, the eruption of Puyehue sent an ash cloud into the atmosphere that disrupted flights in neighbouring Argentina for months.

Ash from the volcano has not affected flights, said Juan Carlos Rojas, air transit head at the government's civil aeronautics division.