Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner announced a package of measures to mitigate the effects of ash spewing from Chile's Puyehue volcano that has upended air travel, tourism and farming in Patagonia.
Citing a real tragedy in Argentina caused by the volcano, Cristina Fernandez said the government would double social benefits, as well as defer tax payments and obligations for the hardest-hit Andean cities and towns, including the skiing resort city of Bariloche and Villa La Angostura in the Andean mountains.
The Patagonia mountain range in south-western Argentina, home to both cities, was declared an environmental disaster area after a massive layer of volcanic ash was dumped on successive ‘rains’ following an eruption.
In a speech broadcast on national television, Kirchner said the equivalent of 2.41 billion pesos would also be awarded to 1,400 farmers and businesses in the affect area on the condition that they don't fire their workers.
The president said another 7 million will be allocated to pay for cleanup operations, while a road will be built in Bariloche to provide work for locals.
The government also hopes that flights will return to normal to and from the affected areas starting Wednesday, giving a break to a region heavily dependent on tourism two weeks after the onset of the winter ski season in Argentina.
Airports in Bariloche and Neuquen have remained closed since June 4 when the volcano erupted in southern Chile and winds spread the ash across much of southern Argentina, intermittently grounding commercial flights and airports in and around Argentina's capital.
Livestock and agriculture in the provinces of Rio Negro and Neuquen were also affected, and declared an emergency due to the economic damage. With the ash blanket mostly sheep and cattle have been deprived of food with no mediate prospects of recovery.
Flights from airports across South America -- including hubs in Montevideo, the Chilean capital Santiago and southern Brazilian cities -- have also been hit in recent weeks due to ash clouds, which swept around the Southern Hemisphere to linger over Australia and New Zealand and also to South Africa.
The Puyehue, which rumbled to life early this month for the first time since 1960, is high in the Andes mountains, 870 kilometres south of Santiago and near the border with Argentina, just 100 kilometres away from Bariloche.