Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Tungurahua may not be done yet!

But as the sun rose Saturday, all he could do was survey his village, laid waste by a volcanic eruption that spewed showers of ash, incandescent rock and rivers of molten lava.

"We never thought Tungurahua would awake like this," Egas said of the volcano - whose name means "throat of fire" in the local Quichua language.

Authorities said Saturday that three people had died from the 19-hour eruption, which ended Thursday before dawn, and that two others were feared killed.

Another 30 people listed as missing had been found alive.

Egas and a few others remain in Bilbao, defying a government order to evacuate the "red zone" and warnings from experts that, though eerily calm, the Tungurahua volcano could be poised to erupt again.

"We feared a big eruption, but not of this magnitude," said Egas, looking at metre-deep drifts of volcanic ash that caved in rooftops, and the still-hot pyroclastic flows - superheated material that shoots down the sides of volcanos like a fiery avalanche at up to 300 kph.

About 80 per cent of Bilbao's adobe brick homes were destroyed.

Nearly all of its 500 inhabitants fled to makeshift shelters in churches and schools in villages farther from the volcano, like Cotalo, 10 kilometres to the northwest.

"We are afraid, but we cannot leave our belongings, what little we have," said Egas, who remained in Bilbao with his parents.

A few metres away, volcanic steam rose off an ash-contaminated creek that had supplied the community's irrigation water.

The explosion disrupted the lives of about 30 000 people, many of them poor Quichua-speaking Indians, in three highland provinces, officials said.

Police Capt. Jorge Ubidia said Saturday in Cotalo that he believed everyone should evacuate the volcano's slopes.

"The problem is that people don't want to leave, and we don't know if we should take them out by force," he told The Associated Press, peering up toward the volcano, shrouded in clouds.
"We're very frightened."

Jose Grijalva, director of Ecuador's Civil Defence, said 3 000 people were evacuated under an emergency order immediately before and during the eruption, but many have returned.

Bilbao is one of five areas, mostly on the volcano's western slope, where people are forbidden to enter, he said.

People along the slopes farther north have been advised to evacuate voluntarily, and Banos -a popular tourist city of 18 000 at the northeast foot of the volcano - is on alert.

Grijalva confirmed two fatalities and said 30 people listed as missing had been located in the homes of relatives or in shelters.

Seven people remained hospitalised Saturday for injuries and burns.

Meanwhile, Juan Salazar, mayor of the village of Penipe, said the body of a man had been recovered nearby on Saturday .

The 85-year-old had been washed away by a flood of water caused by volcanic ash damming up the Puela river, and he was found by his family

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