Saturday, August 19, 2006

30 people are missing since volcano eruption in Ecuador

"There is more potential for it to do very big things. We see that there is a fault in the volcano and it is very unstable," institute head Hugo Yepes said. "There is great activity inside."

The volcano is now quiet, but geology professor Theofilos Toulkeridis, of Quito's San Francisco University, warned: "It is not good news that the volcano is calm. That is not a good sign."

If Tungurahua remained plugged up "at the upper part of the chimney" it would start to "accumulate gas and magma," he told The Associated Press. "The more time that passes with it capped, the worse it is."

Volcanic ash rained down about 140 miles west of Tungurahua, which exploded before dawn Thursday and smothered its lush green slopes in a dull gray blanket of ash. Trees were singed bare by fiery volcanic flows.

Authorities had ordered the evacuation of a dozen hamlets on the volcano's slopes. Ecuador's Civil Defense said about 4,500 people were able to escape the rivers of fire _ a horrific sight to villagers in the middle of the frigid Andean night. A dozen people were hospitalized Friday for injuries and burns.

It was the 14th time Tungurahua has sent hot lava and ash onto villages on its flanks since its first recorded eruption in the Spanish colonial era in 1534. After remaining dormant for eight decades, Tungurahua rumbled back to life in 1999 and has been active ever since.

Carlos Puente, governor of Chimborazo province, said 30,000 to 40,000 people had inhabited the western slopes, the most damaged of the volcano, before the eruption, but that now "no one is left."
At least a dozen villages on the volcano's western slopes were seriously damaged or destroyed, and televised images showed the tops of electricity poles jutting from the smoldering flow that smothered more than 100 homes in the village of Juibe Grande. Authorities said the village's 600 residents escaped in time.

They were less sure about the many holdouts who refused to answer evacuation orders Wednesday in three hamlets high on the slopes of the volcano, which is some 85 miles south of the capital of Quito.

A doctor said about 50 people from the village of Penipe were treated for burns caused by "lava flows and incandescent rocks that burned them as they tried to flee."

"They were also burned by vapor and the elevated heat in the zone. It was a scene of chaos, a Dantesque situation," Dr. Hernan Ayala told Ecuador's Channel 4 from a medical center in Riobamba, where many of the victims were taken.

Rescuers recovered the body of a 50-year-old man in Penipe who was burned to death when he tried to return to his home to retrieve a television set, Puente said.

Hortensia Chicaiza and her husband searched desperately through an ash-covered field for food for her livestock.

"Does God do this in other places or does this only happen here?" she said as she pulled up fistfuls of ashy vegetation.

Pyroclastic flows _ superheated material that shoots down the sides of volcanos at up to 190 mph _ damaged access roads and blocked three rivers and forced the shutdown of a hydroelectric. Four jungle provinces were without power for hours until energy officials were able to rerouted lines.

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