Red alert stays for Chile volcano

View of the Copahue volcano spewing ashes from Caviahue, Neuquen province, Argentina, some 1,500 km southwest of Buenos Aires on December 22, 2012. Getty Images

SANTIAGO, Chile Chile says seismic activity is dropping at a volcano on the border with Argentina but officials are maintaining a red alert as a precaution.

Chile's emergency office ONEMI issued the highest alert Sunday in the Biobio region after it registered high seismic activity Saturday night at the Copahue volcano and an ash cloud billowing almost a mile high. The volcano began spewing ash and gas Saturday.

Mining Minister Hernan de Solminihac says activity at the volcano dropped to normal to low early Monday and the ash plume has descended to about 660 feet. That's a sign internal pressure has decreased inside the volcano.

The Copahue volcano, which sits in the Andes cordillera, straddling the border with Argentina's Neuquen province, started spewing ash and gas on Saturday.

Officials issued a yellow and orange alert at first but Chile's emergency office ONEMI raised the alert Sunday in the Biobio region after it registered seismic activity Saturday night and a cloud of ash billowed almost a mile high.

"Authorities have overflown the volcano area and the alert is still red," Gilda Grandon of the ONEMI's BioBio unit told The Associated Press. "We have noted some drop in the ash plume but the alert level is maintained because a full eruption is not ruled out."

The Mining Ministry's Sernageomin geology unit has recommended careful observation of a 9-mile radius around the active crater in case of mudflows of volcanic fragments. Officials say there's no need yet to evacuate.

The 9,833-feet high Copahue erupted in 1991. The volcano became highly active with blasts and gases in 2001 in its worst activity in more than 20 years.

A volcano in the Caulle Cordon of southern Chile erupted violently last year, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights and the evacuation of more than 3,500 people.

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