March 3, 2015 10:34 PM EST

Thousands of people had to be evacuated in southern Chile on Tuesday after one of the country’s most active volcanoes erupted.

The Villarrica volcano began spewing plumes of smoke and lava at 3 a.m. local time, prompting authorities to shepherd some 3,500 people away from nearby towns, reports Agence-France Presse.

The 9,000ft-high volcano, which lies 500 miles south of the capital Santiago, is a popular tourist spot with hundreds of people hiking to peer inside its crater every summer.

After about seven hours the volcano calmed down and some residents returned to their homes.

Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet traveled to the region on Tuesday and declared an “agricultural emergency” so local authorities could deal with areas affected by the eruption.

The last time Villarrica had a major eruption was 15 years ago.

[AFP]

Write to Helen Regan at helen.regan@timeasia.com.

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