I have some pretty heavy video footage of Chaiten and an interview with Senora Hostencia, an inn keeper and one of the handful of the 6000 inhabitants that have returned. My netbook is both very slow to edit the HD video and I don’t have a sufficient editor to cut the footage, but hopefully will get access to one soon. For now you can see all the pics and read notes below to give some context to the pictures.
From Wikipedia: “Beginning on May 12, lahars caused flooding in the town of Chaitén, depositing ash mud to a depth of up to a metre or more, damaging many buildings, and completely filling the original course of the Chaitén River past the town. Over the subsequent weeks, the river excavated a new course through Chaitén, completely destroying a significant part of it by July 2008. (n.b. at the time of writing, this process is still ongoing; it is unclear how extensive the damage will ultimately be.) Some defensive work has been undertaken by the government, and the town will be reconstructed some 10 km north.”
My personal experience was one of surprise. I had known that there had been an eruption but figured since it had been almost 2 YEARS AGO that it would have been mostly cleaned up. The fact is that only a small amount of people remained or have returned and the fate of Chaiten is unclear – due to concerns of a recurrence and also rumors that recently found mineral deposits that have sparked private interests. I was able to walk for some hours through the old town without seeing another soul – it was spooky and of course incredibly sad. I walked through empty streets strewn with rubble and saw houses that had been quickly stripped of prize possessions pre-evacuation. On my final night in town, after the inn’s generator was turned off, a storm battered against my windows and was so severe that my ferry the next day was delayed 9 hours.
I have two final memories of the town: Senora Hostencia, baking the days bread, no doubt clinging to a distant memory of how things used to be, and the foreshadowing welcome sign at the ferry dock: “Bienvenido a Chaiten: Naturaleza Extrema”.