Saturday, September 09, 2006
Life after a volcano eruption!
Weeks on from the disaster, the smell of burning is still thick in the air. It's an unusual odour, coming from rocks which were molten lava less than a month ago.
Tungurahua means "throat of fire" in the indigenous language, Quechua, but now it looks tranquil. Shrouded in cloud it makes a picturesque backdrop to the green hills and valleys of Ecuador's central Andean region.
But the eruption was all too real for the thousands of people who live and farm over this fertile part of the Andes' central cordillera.
Almost 5,000 people were displaced. Entire villages were swallowed up in ash and rock. Some of those who refused to be evacuated, died.
'This is our land'
Farmer Miguel Morales, 36, lost all his land and his home to Tungurahua.
The volcano blasted lava high into the air.
Only a couple of burnt tree trunks betray that there was ever any vegetation on his plot, which was smothered with tons of volcanic rock and ash.
Sitting on a boulder, still warm from the volcanic crater, he surveys his farm in the hamlet of Juive Grande, which lies directly beneath Tungurahua.
"This is our land, it's our home, but my hope has run out - everything here was burnt and buried," says the father-of-two.
Leaning on his pickaxe, which he has been using to split volcanic rocks to reveal the iridescent patterns inside, he adds: "I don't know how we would survive without my wife's little stall.
"There's nothing left for me to do but gather these stones so that some people may help us by buying something if they want to, for $1 (£0.53) or 25 cents, it's up to them."
Miguel was more prepared than many of his neighbours - he did more than just evacuate his family, he got his animals out as well.
"Thanks to God, I was able to take advantage of the early warning and take my livestock to my mother's house who lives on the other side of the river - I just have some pigs, chickens and guinea pigs.
We don't want to leave our land - we would rather die here.
"Some of my neighbours didn't do the same and they lost all of them, every single one."
Miguel hopes that one day he'll be able to farm his land again. The Ecuadorean authorities say it may be up to five years before the land recovers.
But there have been eruptions before, and, the farmer says, "some of the most fertile land is volcanic".
'Everything was beautiful'.
Apart from being allowed to stay in military barracks in the nearby town of Banos, Miguel and wife Gloria say the only help they have received is from their community.
Miguel's wife and children are selling stones, trying to scrape a living.
"We don't want to move to other land, this is our home, if I can plant just one lettuce, one carrot then I will. We want help here and the government should help us.
"We don't want to leave our land - we would rather die here."
Further across the moonscape that is Miguel's farm, Gloria sits with their two children - Daniela, seven, and Daniel, five.
They have plastic buckets full of volcanic stones.
Gloria, 34, says: "Before the volcano erupted, everything here was beautiful, we had terraces where we'd planted maize, beans, avocadoes - everything was here.
"Now there's nothing but rock and earth. The trees were knocked down, there's nothing - the houses are buried.
"Life is so hard now, but we have to carry on, for them," she says, gesturing to the children. "I will do anything to stop a little one like her from having to work in someone else's house."
It wasn't just the Tungurahua region, named after the volcano, which was affected by the eruption
"I want them to have an education which my husband and I didn't have, when we were children we had to help our parents work," she says.
"We'll sell as many stones as we can until we have enough money for their uniforms and shoes so they can start school next week."
The Ecuadorean government says it will permanently relocate people like the Morales family, who live in villages around the volcano.
But it was slow in helping them. Local media reports say the government merely said "the bank was closed" when explaining the lack of funding.
It wasn't just the Tungurahua region, named after the volcano, which was affected by the eruption.
Winds from the eastern Amazon region of Ecuador blew the volcanic ash as far as the coast, affecting the banana crop.
South of Tungurahua, in the Chimborazo region, crops were blanketed by volcanic ash, which also clogged up roads and rivers, and caused respiratory problems, particularly for the old and very young.
Looking to the future, life for those who live in shadow of Tungurahua looks no less precarious.
The area is still in a state of alert and some volcanologists say the crater is still full of lava and expanding.
They predict what happened on 16 August may just be a precursor to an even larger eruption.
For the Morales family and thousands like them, who live in the shadow of Tungurahua, it still looms menacingly over their lives.