Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Tungurahua's volcanic eruption cost a life and more!

Ecuador's Tungurahua volcano spewed molten rock that enveloped nearby houses on Thursday and a local mayor reported one person dead and 60 missing as authorities evacuated hundreds of families.

Massive clouds of ash descended on frightened villagers fleeing the area with their belongings strapped to their backs and their livestock trailing behind. Some wore buckets over their heads for protection.

"We have recovered the body of one man," Juan Salazar, the mayor of nearby Penipe, told a local television station. "We have three or four other people trapped in the rubble."

Rescuers searched for missing people while a local police chief said a handful of homes had been swallowed up by the molten rock, which also blocked nearby Chambo River.

"We don't know how many people are missing, but the rescue operation is difficult because many roads are blocked," Edison Llagua, a spokesman of the Tungurahua provincial government, told Reuters.

Tungurahua, about 130km south of capital city Quito, had shown a sharp increase in activity in July, causing hundreds to flee.

"This is a lot worse than the last time," Mauro Rodriguez, the Civil Defence chief for the Tungurahua province, told Reuters. "We have so far evacuated around 300 families living near the volcano."

A hospital official in the neighbouring province of Chimborazo told a local television station that two people are being treated for second and third degree burns and another for respiratory problems.

"The volcano's activity ended abruptly this morning," said Hugo Yepes, the head of Ecuador's National Geophysics Institute. "But we cannot rule out more explosions."

Thousands of people crowded into nearby churches and schools, said Javier Bermeo who runs the shelters in Tungurahua province. He said the exact number of evacuees, mostly from towns on the west side of the crater, was not yet known.

Electricity flow to the oil-rich provinces of Sucumbios, Napo and Pastaza was shut down because transmission lines were affected by the Tungurahua's ash and flows of molten rock.

Ecuador's key oil industry was not disrupted by the blackouts, a state oil company official told Reuters.

The country's two main international airports in Quito and the port city of Guayaquil remain open, but some airlines have delayed flights, aviation officials said.

During the early hours of Thursday residents of the tourist town of Banos, with a population of around 17,000, left their homes, but the city mayor told Reuters most have already returned to the town on the south side of the volcano's crater.

More explosions said likely

Scientists with the National Geophysics Institute said the volcano's activity had abruptly stopped on Thursday morning. But more explosions could be on the way.

"It's very likely that we will continue to see explosions in coming days or weeks," said Santiago Arellano, a scientist with the institute staying near the site. "But I don't think we will have a big, massive explosion that will tear everything apart."

He said the explosions are part of the volcano's eruption process that started in 1999 after decades of inactivity. Tungurahua is on of Ecudaor's 31 active volcanos.

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