Wednesday, October 05, 2005

People fleeing El Salvador's volcano eruption

El Salvador’s largest volcano erupted for the first time in a century on Saturday, killing two people and forcing thousands to flee their homes.The Ilamatepec volcano, also known as Santa Ana, hurled out hot rocks, ash and boiling water on Saturday morning and a massive plume of smoke rose more than 10 miles (16km) into the air.

Two people were killed under a landslide caused by the volcano’s eruption in the small community of Palo Campana, near the crater, the government said.A few homes were destroyed. “I have lost everything. I have no money, nothing, just my children and my husband,” said 73-year-old Rosa Flores, whose small home was set ablaze by a red-hot rock as she made breakfast.A 12-year-old boy, Fernando Gonzalez, was desperately looking for his parents.

“I’m scared. I saw big stones fall and one had smoke coming from it.”El Salvador’s government declared a red alert and evacuated more than 4,000 people by late afternoon with 3,000 more expected to be moved out.“The important thing is to save people, that is the first phase of this emergency,” President Tony Saca told reporters.Ilamatepec is the largest of El Salvador’s 23 volcanoes and stands 7,800ft (2,380m) above sea level in a major coffee-growing area about 60km west of the capital.

Its last eruption was in 1904 but it has been increasingly active since last year.The volcano has been rumbling since mid-August, but had been quiet since Thursday, said Elda Godoy with the government office that monitors seismic and volcanic activity. She described Saturday’s eruption as “abrupt.”Similar eruptions could occur in the next days or weeks, Godoy said, warning of possible landslides due to the weak rain-soaked ground.

Homes and vehicles were covered in a thick layer of ash, and some of the area’s coffee plantations were damaged.“Many trees have been burned, for sure,” said Sergio Gil, who leads the Procafe coffee institute. “It is a delicate situation, the ashes have reached as far as Apaneca, about 25km from the crater.”

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