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After a few weeks, though, the volcano had settled down and a cautious optimism began to emerge. The worst hit areas had been buried under as much as 15 inches of ash. But other regions, it was reported, were dusted with just a few inches. Evacuees grappled with the unknowns. On the one hand, experts at the United States Geological Survey warned that ashfalls of greater than four to six inches can result in soil sterility and the death of all crops. On the other, they allowed that precipitation shortly after the event could dramatically mitigate damage. Thankfully, much of Palena was bathed in rain and snow immediately following the eruption.

Soon residents began to trickle back to their homes, and even more accurate and hopeful reports appeared. After conducting a series of ground and aerial surveys, Dagoberto Guzmán, the administrator of Pumalín Park (which contains the volcano), asserted that only the southern third of the park was heavily damaged, thanks to strong winds in the days after the blast.

Robert Currie, a Chilean guide for Earth River Expeditions, the largest outfitter on the Fu, was one of the few visitors to the river two weeks after the eruption. He was prepared to see massive destruction. "But it all looked pretty good," he said. "It had been raining for several days, most of the ash had been swept from the hillsides, and the ash that remained had been compressed to about four inches." The Espolón River, a tributary of the Fu, "was running milky," he added, "but in the Fu and the canyon surrounding it, there was hardly any ash at all."

Closer to the town of Futaleufú, Don Weeden, an American whose family has owned 300 acres in the area since 1997, reported that other than a collapsed barn and many downed trees, his farm, like most others nearby, seemed to have "dodged the bullet." His primary concern was the long-term effect of ash on water sources and marine life, which remains to be seen.

As this issue was going to press, many residents, especially those from Futaleufú’s expatriate and travel services community, had begun to shift their concerns to a very different threat. "Articles depicting the region as covered in ash and as a ‘paradise lost’ will be a killing blow for the tourism industry and an effective foothold for mining and dam interests," Alan Grundy-Valenzuela, executive director of FutaFriends, an association supported by Futaleufú tour operators, told Adventure.

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  • Re: Jon Bowermaster/Chile volcano The ash will not make the soil sterile. It will have the opposite …
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