Chile volcano hits air travel in region

Dozens of flights were canceled in South America Tuesday because of the huge cloud of volcanic ash from the erupting Puyehue volcano in Chile, as officials expressed fears over landslides.

In Argentina, an airport official said 32 flights were canceled at the Buenos Aires Ezeiza international airport and 30 others were canceled at the Aeroparque de Buenos Aires, which has flights to domestic and regional destinations.

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 cloud which was drifting over Argentina.

In Santiago, a total of 16 flights were canceled including all headed to Buenos Aires and Montevideo and three for Sao Paulo.

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

In Chile, authorities aid volcanic activity had diminished but that heavy rains in threatened to provoke avalanches that could could affect residents in the region.

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

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.