Where there's smoke...?
Where there's smoke...?

CAVIAHUE – In this ghost town, the houses are empty and windows are boarded shut.

The red foxes and cauquenes geese are in hiding and no condors circle the sky above. Since last week, there has been no movement in Caviahue, southwestern Argentina, aside from the tremors of the nearby Copahue volcano, spewing gas.

Even though the volcano’s tremors are barely perceptible, this popular touristic town is completely empty except for the people who are there to research the volcano. The handful of scientists know that they might have to flee the area as quickly as possible at any given moment.

The rest, the townspeople are gone – they have evacuated their homes, leaving a desolate and empty town.

On Monday, provincial authorities declared a “red alert” and ordered the evacuation of the whole town as a precaution. For those who needed to go back home to get their things, a “special mission” was organized. When they arrived, they found that the village had been blanketed in 1.5 meters of snow. About 40 villagers went into their homes to retrieve clothing, medicine, documents and pets.

Evacuation (FB Turismo Copahue)

Soledad Poblete was able to “rescue” Tifi and Piren, his dogs. “We are staying at my grandfather’s house until the alarm is over. We are calm and are doing everything we can to be safe,” says Soledad.

Living at the foot of a volcano

It is not the first time these villagers have been evacuated. Volcanic activity in the area already forced them to flee in 1992 and 2000, when the sulfur expelled by the volcano scared everyone. The last time the volcano was active was last December, when it spewed ash for a day and a half.

“This is how we live, we are used to living at the foot of a volcano and we have no other option: we must resign ourselves to the laws of nature,” says Marcelino Saenz, a retiree who drove four neighbors into town to check on their houses. About 538 evacuees are staying with their families, are housed in gyms, military barracks and hotels in the region.

Today the village is covered by a thin white veil and complete silence. Who knows when the living mountain will open its mouth.

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