By Erica Harrington and Greg Botelho
(CNN) — Chilean authorities on Sunday issued a red alert — the most severe in their warning system — that the Copahue Volcano, high in the Andes mountains on the border with Argentina, might be poised for a significant eruption.
In a statement, Chile’s Geological and Mining Service stressed that no mandatory evacuations have been ordered around the remote volcano, which lies about 280 kilometers southeast (175 miles) of Concepcion, though the closest roads to it are in Argentina.
Even though the seismic activity suggests a minor eruption, the agency decided to raise the alert level because it could not rule out a major eruption. The service warned specifically about potentially dangerous mudslides within a 15-kilometer (9.3-mile) radius of the crater.
Alto Biobio, a community about 60 kilometers (37 miles) east of Copahue, is under the heightened alert. The governor and emergency officials in Biobio province met Sunday afternoon to discuss possible scenarios, including establishing a plan in case a mass evacuation is deemed necessary.
Seismic stations first detected increased activity Saturday, according to the Volcano Observatory of the Southern Andes, which is part of Chile’s Geological and Mining Service.
In addition, more gas than normal has been detected coming from the volcano. The black, ash-filled gas has soared as 1.5 kilometers (almost 1 mile) above Copahue and extended 13 kilometers (8 miles) out from it, toward the southeast.