Chaitén Volcano Recovery

In May 2008, the Chaitén Volcano, in the heart of Pumalín Park, burst into a massive eruption. After 9000 years of dormancy, the volcano surprised everyone, including park managers. Its dramatic mushroom cloud affected commercial airline traffic as far away as Uruguay. Spraying 7 km3 of ash into the air over the course of several months, the Chaitén Volcano caused massive flooding in the nearby town of Chaitén. Although no one died as a result of the eruption, damage in the town of Chaitén was catastrophic: rainfall following the eruption carried tons of ash, which changed the course of the Rio Blanco and caused massive flooding and infrastructure damage. The community, previously the largest in Palena Province, had to be evacuated. For several years afterward, the town of Chaitén remained largely uninhabited, although residents have begun to return and the Chilean government has begun to repair its infrastructure. Nonetheless, the level of damage to the town required the Pumalín team to salvage materials from the office and visitor center in Chaitén and relocate the facilities.

Within Pumalín Park, the El Amarillo sector at the southern entrance experienced the greatest damage, requiring enormous restoration work. Just months after a major landscape restoration project there had been completed, the eruption covered the area in feet of volcanic ash. Closing the park to the public for the 2008–2009 and 2009–2010 seasons permitted park employees to concentrate their efforts on the immense task of repairing damaged infrastructure and assisting natural recovery. Repeated cycles of disking ash-covered fields allowed the area’s heavy rains to progressively wash away ash until only a small quantity remained, which could be turned over into the soil and reseeded. Campgrounds had to be dug out and repaired. Ash-filled rivers had altered course and washed out large sections of road, which required complete rebuilding.

After seasons of diligent work, the entire El Amarillo sector is restored, with the new administrative office open and the park receiving thousands of visitors once again.

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