Yikes. AP/Aton Chile

Roughly 3,500 people have already fled.

One of the most active volcanoes in South America erupted early this morning, forcing thousands of nearby residents and tourists to flee.

At 3 a.m. local time, the 9,400 foot volcano Villarrica erupted in southern Chile, emitting an enormous plume of smoke overhead and raining a firestorm of lava and ash down the sides of the crater. According to the Associated Press, Chile's National Emergency Office issued a red alert and ordered the evacuation of people in the city of Pucon, a popular tourist destination which sits just below the volcano. Roughly 3,500 people have already evacuated.

Yesterday, the National Emergency Office issued an orange alert because of an increase in seismic activity.

Now there are two main concerns: The heat from the lava could melt the snow and ice on the sides of the volcano and cause mudslides, and noxious volcanic gases could permeate the air. The latter of these two hazards is believed to have killed 15 people after the volcano erupted in 1971. Even though Villarrica is highly active, compared to other volcanoes—like Iceland's Laki—it's not quite as deadly.

According to the BBC, the volcano appears to have calmed after the initial violent eruption. Here are some incredible photos of one of Mother Nature's most fearsome entities at work:

El volcán wn! Ta la pura caga#volcanvillarrica#activao#Erupción#Chile#villarrica#costanera#chv#canal13 #tvn#mega#pucon#caburga

A video posted by Fernard Savier Toro Morales (@fernardtoro) on

(AP/Lautaro Salinas)

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