The government declared a state of emergency in northeast Ecuador late on Sunday, after the El Reventador volcano rumbled back to life after lying dormant for 26 years.
Around 1 500 residents in the immediate vicinity of the volcano were immediately evacuated from their homes, while Quito’s international airport, some 180 kilometres away, was shut down as ash coated its runway.
Funds will be made available to areas immediately affected by activity of the volcano, government spokesman Oscar Zuloaga said, announcing that all schools in the affected areas would be closed on Monday.
President Gustavo Noboa, who was on a visit to the southern city of Cuenca, is being kept informed of the situation, he said. El Reventador began to churn out ash in the early hours of Sunday, following an initial explosion that caused a 15-kilometre high mushroom cloud of gas, smoke and ash to form above the volcano.
The cloud of dust generated by the explosion in the early hours of Sunday covers an area of 20 000 square kilometres in northern Ecuador, said Hugo Yepez, a geologist with the National Polytechnic School of Ecuador’s Geophysics Institute.
Straddling an area that borders on two diverse climactic regions of Ecuador — the Andean and Amazonian provinces of Napo and Sucumbios –the 3 562 metre volcano had until Sunday been silent since 1976.
The villages of Baeza, Pifo, Papallacta and other farming populations, close to the volcano, have been evacuated, police said. Many local farmers also left the area on their own incentive, Yepez said, noting that large quantities of ash had already fallen on their crops and livestock.
Farmers predict a shortfall in dairy supplies in the coming week, as well as agricultural products supplies, such as vegetables, potatoes and corn, to Quito and surrounding markets. Sucumbios police commander Colonel Milton Borja, announced the evacuations in a radio broadcasts, and said the main road between the capital Quito and the provincial capital Lago Agrio was closed. Police and members of the Red Cross, involved in communications and evacuations work to the affected populations, said 600 workers on an oil pipeline project were also evacuated.
The Red Cross was, meanwhile, cautioning residents of the capital to remain alert and to stay indoors when possible. The volcano, which lies in an area of seismic activity due to the intercontinental convergence between the Andean and Amazonian platforms, was most recently active between 1955 and 1960, and from 1972 to 1976.
Eduardo Aguilera, a geologist and researcher at Army facilities, said the volcano normally has a pattern of explosive activity and lava emission, and said he expected to see a similar pattern to that of 1976. – Sapa-AFP