Chaitén: The Mud-Ravaged Ghost Town of Chile’s Los Lagos Region

Chaiten-ghost-town-chile (Image: Javier Rubilar)

It happened to the ancient Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD. It happened to the capital of Montserrat, Plymouth, in 1995. Then, in May 2008, the small Chilean commune of Chaitén in the country’s Los Lagos Region was devastated by a pyroclastic mudflow, after a volcanic eruption caused the Blanco River to burst its banks and forge a destructive new path through the town.

Chaiten-volcano-eruption-2008 (Image: Sam Beebe)

On May 2, 2008 the vast caldera of the Chaitén volcano, two miles in diameter, rumbled to life. The eruptions became increasingly violent until, on May 5, the volcano spewed a toxic plume of ash and sulfurous steam some 19 miles into the atmosphere, which drifted across Patagonia and negatively impacting the infrastructure and economy of Argentina.

Chaiten-ghost-town-chile-9 (Image: Javier Rubilar)

But it wasn’t until the following week that Chaitén’s death-knell was finally dealt. On May 12, 2008 the lahar flow caused by the ongoing eruptions of the nearby Volcano forced the river to overflow dramatically. As the pyroclastic mud consumed the valley, it drove its deadly course through the evacuated town, consuming anything that stood in its way.

Chaiten-ghost-town-chile-2 (Image: Dominio público)

Despite attempts by the authorities to shore up the devastated settlement against future volcanic activity, the government decided to abandon Chaitén and rehouse its residents elsewhere.

Chaiten-ghost-town-chile-12 (Image: Javier Rubilar)

They left behind a foreboding ghost town – a cautionary tale of the dangers of living within the indiscriminate reach of an active volcano. The ash-covered settlement appeared ghostly in the aftermath of the eruption, its colourful buildings appearing ghost-like beneath a thick blanket of grey.

Chaiten-ghost-town-chile-8 (Image: Javier Rubilar)

Throughout the town, collapsing houses and other buildings stood semi-sunken into the mud, while deserted vehicles stood silently where their owners had abandoned them.

Chaiten-ghost-town-chile-10 (Image: Javier Rubilar)

Since Chaitén had been the capital of Palena Province at the time of the eruption, a new municipality was sought in the region. The honour went to Futaleufú, a town of two thousand residents close to the Argentine border. But decisions over the rebuilding of Chaitén and compensation of the ghost town’s former residents has become increasingly controversial.

Chaiten-ghost-town-chile-7 (Image: Javier Rubilar)

Plans were announced in February 2009 to rebuild Chaitén on the coast, around six miles to the north of its original location. Construction began in earnest the following month. But 2011 brought with it a change of government, and plans to relocate the ill-fated settlement were reportedly halted in favour of its historical site. Google Street View suggests that around half of the town remains habitable, while the remainder lies practically deserted.

Chaiten-ghost-town-chile-4 (Image: Javier Rubilar)

Meanwhile, scientists from the Victoria University of Wellington have studied the aftermath of the Chilean volcano’s epic eruption to ascertain the likely effects of a similar cataclysm in New Zealand.

Chaiten-ghost-town-chile-5 (Image: Javier Rubilar)

Associate Professor Brent Alloway told in March 2015 that the Chaitén eruption occurred seemingly without warning: “From a scientific point of view it was a unique and exciting opportunity to view an explosive rhyolitic (high silica) eruption—the first of its type to be experienced world-wide since the Novarupta (Alaska) eruption of 1912.”

Chaiten-ghost-town-chile-11 (Image: Javier Rubilar)

He added: “This eruption was also recognised as being similar in magnitude, as well as physical and chemical characteristics, to what could be reasonably be expected in future eruptions from volcanic centres situated in the Taupo Volcanic Zone here in New Zealand.

Chaiten-ghost-town-chile-3 (Image: Javier Rubilar)

“It’s pretty clear that our results will need to be carefully considered by both the Chilean authorities and the local community as they continue with restoration and rebuilding in the aftermath of the 2008 eruption.”

Chaiten-ghost-town-chile-13 (Image: Javier Rubilar)

Professor Alloway concluded: “There’s always a likelihood that there will be another eruption at Chaitén, the timing of which, along with its magnitude, cannot be predicted with any certainty.”

Chaiten-ghost-town-chile-6 (Image: Javier Rubilar)

These haunting scenes reveal all too clearly what such a catastrophic scene would look like, in Chaitén or elsewhere. And though some communities are rebuilt following volcanic eruptions of fearsome magnitudes, the abandoned ruins, both ancient and modern, punctuating the globe certainly make one question whether it’s wise to do so.

Related – Haunting Abandoned Fishing Village on China’s Shengshan Island


About the author: Tom





Latest Articles




Send this to friend

Urban Ghosts uses cookies to enhance your browsing experience and to serve you with advertisements that might interest you. By continuing to use this site, you agree to our use of cookies. Privacy Policy

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.