Chile gives volcano hold-outs ultimatum to flee

PUERTO MONTT, Chile - Chile ordered hold-out residents to flee from an erupting volcano in the remote region of Patagonia today and vowed to remove them by force if they refuse to obey.The military evacuated a small contingent of troops and journalists from near Chaiten volcano in southern Chile before dawn today, after it spat a surge of fiery material.But a few civilians refused to leave two villages near the volcano, which began erupting last week for the first time in thousands of years.A strong smell of sulphur hung in the air around the village of Chaiten, just 10km from the volcano.A court has ordered the complete evacuation of a 50km radius of the volcano -- an order that gives police permission to use force."There are still people who are not respecting the decisions of the authorities, which are trying to protect their lives," Defence Minister Jose Goni told local radio.A handful of civilians stayed back in Chaiten and 24 remained in the village of Santa Barbara 20km from the volcano, well within the evacuation zone, a Reuters reporter who left with the troops said.Thousands of people have been evacuated from the area in the past few days, most by boat or navy warship. From the north, remote Chaiten, flanked by fjord, forest and river, is only accessible by boat or by air."I can't assure you that by the end of the day there will be no-one left ... but we are doing all we can to ensure absolutely no-one stays in Chaiten," said Gen Jose Bernales, Chile's police chief."We have a court order. I want to ask anyone still in their houses to leave and go to the pier. We will take you to a safe place," he added. "Either people leave Chaiten, or we will take them anyway."Army troops and a few journalists drove around 80km south of the volcano to the village of Santa Lucia overnight after earth tremors and an electric storm at its peak around midnight.Chaiten volcano lies 1,220km south of the capital Santiago and has showered ash on towns as far away as in neighbouring Argentina.Cows left behind in Chaiten nibbled at foliage caked with ash. It had settled on their backs and on the ground it was compacted in some areas and appeared hard, like concrete.The long dormant 1,000-metre Chaiten volcano began erupting on Friday and the huge plume of volcanic ash soaring around 12km into the air is clearly visible on satellite images cutting a swath across South America's southern tip.Experts say the volcano could continue belching out vast clouds of ash for months and could rumble on for years.Chile has the world's second most active string of volcanoes behind Indonesia. It is home to 2,000 volcanoes, 500 of which experts say are potentially active. Around 60 have erupted over the past 450 years. REUTERS

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