Key worry for Chile as volcano ash drifts: soccer

The Copa America, which brings together Latin America's top soccer teams once every four years, is set to start July 1. The volcano ash has already prompted hundreds of flights to be canceled.

By , Correspondent

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    Lightning strikes over the Puyehue-Cordon Caulle volcano in Chile, seen from the international cross border way Cardenal Samore, in southern Chile, on Sunday, June 12. The volcano ash has Chileans worried about about how it will affect the upcoming Copa America soccer tournament that begins on July 1.
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The Caulle Cordon in the Andes mountains is normally a quiet region of Chile dotted with hot springs, such as those featured at the $500-a-night Puyehue resort. Since June 4, however, the area has seen a roaring, nearly perpetual eruption spewing the tiny rock fragments called volcanic ash.

Hundreds of flights to and from Australia, New Zealand, and South American countries have been canceled and tens of thousands of passengers stranded amid concerns about flying through volcanic ash.

Airport closures have already caused Peruvian President-elect Ollanta Humala to delay a visit to Argentina. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon visited Uruguay by landing 400 miles away in northern Argentina and taking a bus and river ferry.

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Chile itself has been only mildly affected so far. Airports were only closed briefly in the Chilean cities closest to the eruption and some ranchers near the eruption have already been allowed to return to their animals. About 3,500 people remain in shelters.

But that has started to change in recent days, as the volcano begins to affect Chile more directly.

The ash cloud is circumnavigating the globe and is predicted to drop debris on Patagonia starting on Saturday. Ash may fall as far north as Concepcion, which is still recovering from last year's 8.8-magnitude earthquake and tsunami. The country's aeronautic authorities are keeping an eye on the situation.

The most affected industry so far appears to be salmon farming, with a single company losing 4.5 million newly hatched fish in Chile. Water in rivers near the volcano continue to defy the southern winter, flowing at a bath-like 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

But a much bigger worry for many Chileans and their neighbors is how the ash will affect a major upcoming soccer tournament. Every four years, the Copa America brings together the top national soccer teams of Latin America. The tournament is set to start July 1 in Argentina. That's 16 days away, according to a countdown timer that runs constantly on Chilean state-owned television network TVN.

Newspapers in soccer-mad Santiago have carried banner headlines warning that the championship may be pushed back because of the ash cloud. The first headlines ran Monday, provoking chatter on the daily soccer radio shows. La Tercera, one of the city's most respected dailies, proclaimed today, "Ash threatens start of Copa America."

To calm everyone's nerves, the Argentine organizing committee released a statement saying that the event will go ahead as planned, starting July 1.

Soccer fans may also find solace in a National Geological and Mines Service report yesterday that pulses of glowing-hot rocks and ash were weaker than the day before, with 10- to 20-minute rests between the most intense bursts that spout ash five miles up into the atmosphere.

Photos and videos of the ash cloud continue to amaze.

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