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Thousands face hardship after volcanic eruption

The eruption of Tungurahua in Ecuador has left 20 000 people living in the shadow of the volcano in urgent need of assistance, Red Cross officials said on Saturday.

Ecuadorean President Alfredo Palacio has appealed to the international community for donations of money and material aid for the residents of seven nearby villages damaged or destroyed by the current eruption, which began on Wednesday.

The central government has issued disaster declarations for at least three provinces.

At least five people have been killed and 30 more are believed to be missing since Wednesday. At least 4 000 people have evacuated and sought emergency shelter.

Tungurahua, nicknamed the Black Giant by locals, has an elevation of 5 023m in the Cordillera Central of the Andes of central Ecuador. It lies about 140km south of the capital, Quito, and has been active since 1999 after a long dormant period.

The roofs of many homes near Tungurahua have collapsed under the weight of volcanic ash. Electricity is out and drinking water sources have been fouled by the eruption.

Geologists estimated that the volcano has already spewed 20-million cubic metres of ash and rock since Wednesday. Local residents live mainly from agriculture, and their livelihoods may now be disrupted for a lengthy period by the thick layer of ash covering the ground and existing crops.

More than 11 000ha planted in corn, potatoes, vegetables and grain are affected. Livestock are now foraging in vain for plants to graze.

Local people wore breathing masks as they swept up ashes, according to television footage from the region, and many sensitive people complained of breathing difficulties. Domestic air flights were cancelled as the ash and smoke spread across the country to the Pacific Ocean.

Geologists have warned that further eruptions are possible. — Sapa-dpa

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