Chile volcano grounds flights in Argentina, Uruguay

BUENOS AIRES, July 8, 2011 (AFP) - Clouds of ash spewing from Chile's Puyehue volcano grounded flights Friday at airports in the capitals of Uruguay and Argentina, where a major football tournament is being held.

Scores of local and international flights were delayed or canceled in and out of Buenos Aires, regional airport authority Aeropuertos Argentina 2000 said on its website.

The Puyehue has been causing air travel mayhem since it rumbled back to life on June 4 for the first time in five decades, belching into the air an untold volume of dust and ash.

Flights across South America -- including hubs in Montevideo, Chile's capital city Santiago and southern Brazil -- have been hit hard as ash clouds swept around the southern hemisphere to linger over Australia and New Zealand.

The latest flight disruptions wreaked havoc for football fans arriving in Argentina for the July 1-24 Copa America competition, which has been drawing thousands of supporters. The regional tournament is being played in several Argentine cities.

In nearby Montevideo, at least 35 departures and 31 arrivals were canceled due to the ash clouds, Carrasco International Airport officials said. Most of the flights were to or from Buenos Aires, but departures for places like Lima and Porto Alegre in Brazil were also canceled.

The volcano is still spewing out a two-kilometer (over a mile) high column of ash, less than its 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) at the height of the eruption, Chile's national geology and mines service said.

The national weather bureau said the wind could continue to blow the ash cloud toward Argentina for the rest of the weekend.

"It seems that the volcanic ash cloud will head southeast and only hit Argentine territory," a spokesman said.

"The eruptions are likely to continue and it is possible that activity will increase so the volcanic alert level remains on red" for a minor eruption, he added.

Provinces in southwestern Argentina, including Rio Negro and Neuquen, are in a state of emergency due to widespread damage caused by a massive layer of volcanic ash from the Puyehue.

The Puyehue volcano is high in the Andes mountains, 870 kilometers (540 miles) south of Santiago near the border with Argentina.

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