Evac­u­a­tions as Ecuador vol­cano rum­bles to life


Ecuador’s Pres­i­dent Rafael Cor­rea de­clared a state of emer­gency Satur­day as the dan­ger­ous Co­topaxi vol­cano rum­bled to life and prompted evac­u­a­tion or­ders in sev­eral vil­lages threat­ened by land­slides.

“As a pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sure, a to­tal of 400 peo­ple have been evac­u­ated,” the pres­i­dent said in his ra­dio and tele­vi­sion ad­dress just be­fore sign­ing the de­crees.

The vol­cano, which tow­ers to 5,897 me­ters high, is con­sid­ered one of the most threat­en­ing in the re­gion — both be­cause of its size and be­cause it is so close to wellpop­u­lated towns.

“The sit­u­a­tion de­vel­op­ing at Co­topaxi is a se­ri­ous threat that has led the govern­ment to take ur­gent spe­cial mea­sures to con­front this erup­tive process,” said pub­lic safety chief Ce­sar Navas.

Sec­ond Day Rum­bling

The vol­cano started to stir Fri­day, reg­is­ter­ing sev­eral small erup­tions and an­grily shoot­ing plumes of dust and ash eight kilo­me­ters (five miles) into the sky.

By declar­ing a state of emer­gency — also called a state of ex­cep­tion in Ecuador — the pres­i­dent can di­rect re­sources and de­ploy mil­i­tary per­son­nel to aid com­mu­ni­ties af­fected by the vol­cano’s ac­tiv­ity.

Ear­lier, of­fi­cials or­dered what they called pre­cau­tion­ary evac­u­a­tions in vil­lages near the vol­cano, warn­ing res­i­dents of po­ten­tial land­slides of vol­canic de­bris, or la­hars.

Res­i­dents in towns and river set­tle­ments in Co­topaxi prov­ince, just 45 kilo­me­ters south of the cap­i­tal Quito, were told to clear out, said Pablo Mo­rillo, head of the Risk Man­age­ment Of­fice.

Of­fi­cials did not spec­ify how many peo­ple could be af­fected by the evac­u­a­tion or­der which af­fects three prov­inces with towns near the vol­cano.

In the city of Lat­a­cunga, home to about 170,000 peo­ple, sirens sounded as res­i­dents fran­ti­cally fled, pack­ing food, wa­ter and pets into cars that quickly clogged the roads.

“I was driv­ing near the Cu­tuchi River and po­lice came out with sirens, alert­ing us, and mov­ing from house to house to draw peo­ple out. The sirens dis­tressed us,” one woman told AFP, with­out pro­vid­ing her name.

Sol­diers could be seen in the streets of Lat­a­cunga, along with cars car­ry­ing mat­tresses, mo­tor­cy­cles and other house­hold items.

Yel­low Alert

Au­thor­i­ties main­tained a yel­low alert in the re­gion, a mid-range warn­ing, and said it would re­main as long as Co­topaxi con­tin­ued to stir.

“We will main­tain the same alert, but since there are still no la­har flows, the evac­u­a­tion or­der is still only pre­ven­tive,” Mo­rillo said.

The vol­cano spewed a cur­rent of hot glass and rock — called py­ro­clas­tic flow — which au­thor­i­ties warned could trig­ger avalanches or la­hars.

“Due to the py­ro­clas­tic flows that can gen­er­ate la­hars, pre­ven- tative evac­u­a­tions (are or­dered) on the south­ern part” of the vol­cano, the Risk Man­age­ment Of­fice said on Twit­ter.

The Geo­phys­i­cal In­sti­tute also cau­tioned res­i­dents: “At present, there have been no la­hars, but they could oc­cur.”

Quito Mayor Mauri­cio Ro­das said one mil­lion sur­gi­cal masks would be dis­trib­uted across the city of 2.3 mil­lion peo­ple, to pre­vent in­hala­tion of fall­ing dust.

Some res­i­dents could be seen wear­ing masks Fri­day as they fled vil­lages, with a large, an­gry cloud of gray dust and ash form­ing over Co­topaxi.

The En­vi­ron­ment Min­istry has de­clared the vol­cano off lim­its to tourists, and 15 climbers who were pre­par­ing to scale the moun­tain were sent home Fri­day.

Co­topaxi is one of eight ac­tive vol­ca­noes in Ecuador, a coun­try that is part of the so-called Pa­cific Ring of Fire that makes it prone to seis­mic and vol­canic events.

Its snow-cov­ered tip has been de­scribed as “ma­jes­tic” and is a pop­u­lar climb­ing des­ti­na­tion.

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