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Ash from Chilean volcano grounds flights in Argentina

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Lightning illuminates ash cloud
  • NEW: The ash cloud reaches Buenos Aires
  • Flights are canceled at the Buenos Aires airport
  • Airports in several other cities are also affected
  • The volcano first erupted Saturday afternoon

Buenos Aires (CNN) -- The ash cloud from a Chilean volcano reached Buenos Aires, the capital of neighboring Argentina, but was not expected to cause problems for area residents, officials said.

The ash cloud had already caused most airlines flying into Buenos Aires to cancel flights, but if favorable weather conditions persist, it will not pose a risk to people, said Jorge Echarran, head of the emergency council.

Smoke and ash shot more than six miles into the sky when the Puyehue volcano in southern Chile first erupted Saturday afternoon. Authorities evacuated about 3,500 people from the area, the state emergency office said.

On Tuesday, there was an ash cloud between 5,000 and 7,000 meters (about 16,000 to 23,000 feet) in the atmosphere over the capital, Echarran said, according to the state-run Telam news agency.

The cloud's consistency was not as strong as when it passed over southern Argentina, and therefore would not bring with it the same problems, he said.

The Patagonia region in southern Argentina was the area most affected by the volcanic ash.

Cities that draw tourists, like Bariloche, Junín de los Andes and others in the area, canceled school and public activities.

Ash piled as high as 30 centimeters (about 1 foot) on highways through Patagonia. Local governments used machinery to clear the roads.

The scene in Buenos Aires was more normal.

"If the weather conditions change it could cause some of the ashes to fall," Echarran said. "If this happens, we have to work, calmly, on prevention, carrying out our daily activities with caution, such as using masks or being careful with contact lenses to avoid irritation."

Airlines canceled most flights Tuesday at the Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires, an official there said. Airports in several other cities are also affected, Telam reported.

Chile is located on the Ring of Fire, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines circling the Pacific Basin that is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Enrique Valdivieso, the director of Chile's National Geology and Mines Service, said that thanks to the coordination of local authorities in Chile, no fatalities have been reported because of the volcano.

Because of monitoring, officials were able to predict the coming eruption and prepare for it, he said.

CNN's Javier Doberti, Rafael Romo and Nelson Quinones contributed to this report.