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Chilean Ash Cloud Update: Volcanic Ash Threatens Patagonian Ski Season

Travelers with plans to visit Bariloche, Argentina, may have to reschedule their upcoming ski trips -- a blanket of volcanic ash has covered the resort town.

Many airports in Australia are still being impacted by volcanic ash in the atmosphere from Chile's Puyehue-Cordon Caulle Volcano, which erupted more than two weeks ago on June 4.

Qantas and Virgin have canceled flights in and out of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and other Australian cities, CNN reports.

A giant cloud of ash that can destroy engines burst from the volcano into the atmosphere and rode easterly winds all the way round the globe, provoking havoc in places as distant as New Zealand and Uruguay.

The airborne ash returned full circle to Chile, resulting in the first batch of cancellations in the volcano's origin country.

On Sunday, June 19, Chilean officials said that although the volcano's activity was decreasing, ash will likely continue to be emitted. The volcano, which hadn't erupted for 50 years, is powerful enough to continue explosive activity for months. (Puyehue's last eruption in 1960 lasted for two months.)

Chilean geologists said they expect the column of ash and smoke to dissipate over the next two weeks as the volcano becomes increasingly quiet, but made no promises.

And while more than 4,000 evacuees in towns near the volcano have returned home, officials are warning that the ash will likely pose a threat for months to come.

The volcano sits just west of a major international pass between Chile and Argentina in the heart of the picturesque Lakes District, dotted with alpine lakes and natural beauty. Thick and heavy gray ash has blanketed quaint mountain towns, vast Patagonian farmlands, national parks, and even ski resorts at the time of year that the area normally receives its first winter snowfalls and begins to welcome tens of thousands of tourists.

Both towns are heavily dependent on mid- and upper-class tourists, 80% of whom fly in from Brazil. Ski resorts remain closed as the local airport announced it would stay closed until at least June 30.

Food rationing, power outages, school closures, and water supply concerns have kept both towns on edge since June 4. Roofs have collapsed under the weight of the ashes, made heavier by the early winter rains.

But the issue of air transportation is the biggest problem. Bariloche is 1,000 miles (1,600 km) south of Buenos Aires and relies on the normal six to eight daily flights from the capital. Regular long-distance bus services are operating normally.

Most residents are back at work, having cleaned up their homes, and are keeping busy with maintenance while they wait the reopening of the airport and the return of tourists.

Local tour guide and ski instructor Martin Ferrer said his employer, a local ski school that usually provides him with steady employment from mid-June until mid-September, won't be operating at least until the airport is open.

"We're hoping that by August, things will return to normal," said Mariana Neira, owner-operator of Hosteria Las Marianas in Bariloche.