Evacuations after Ecuador volcano becomes active


Ecuador's Tungurahua volcano spewed ash and gas for the second day straight yesterday, sending hundreds of Ecuadorean villagers crowding into schools and churches seeking refuge.

Tungurahua, located about 80 miles (129 km) south of Quito, has been increasingly active since May, when it shot out large clouds of hot gas and prompted officials to renew a limited state of emergency in nearby towns.

Civil defense authorities and police continued to evacuate seven small villages around the volcano, whose name means "throat of fire" in the indigenous Quichua language. Civil defense authorities said more than 3,600 people have been evacuated from the highest risk areas near the volcano.

The Tungurahua's crater blasted molted rocks on Friday that burned trees and grass on its way down in the volcano's highest recorded activity since it started erupting in 1999, local scientists said. Lava flows blocked roads and destroyed bridges while people fled their farming hamlets tucked in the skirts of 16,460-foot (5,020 metres) Tungurahua.

Scientists with Ecuador's geophysics institute staying near the site said volcanic activity had decreased yesterday but the threat remains high in populated areas surrounding the crater. Many fleeing villagers took refuge at schools and churches in the nearby town of Pingue only a few miles away from the Tungurahua.

The volcano's crater is little more than a mile south of the tourist town of Banos whose 17,000 residents were forced to evacuate in 1999 after loud explosions and huge plumes of ash billowed out of the volcano.

Other emergency centers were set up in Banos to receive any residents fleeing from nearby villages.