Archive for Friday, August 18, 2006

Volcano’s fiery eruption kills one

August 18, 2006

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— A volcanic eruption in Ecuador's Andes mountains showered incandescent rock and lava on nearby villages, smothering houses and burning residents as thousands tried to flee to safety. At least one person was killed and 60 were missing.

The Tungurahua volcano exploded early Thursday, raining ash for miles and sending molten rock flowing down its slopes for hours. The fiery mountain still was unleashing a blast of gas and ash later in the day that reached five miles into the sky.

At least a dozen villages on the volcano's western slopes were seriously damaged or destroyed. Televised images showed just the tops of electricity poles jutting out from the smoldering pyroclastic flow that smothered 107 homes in the village of Juibe Grande, on the volcano's northwest slope. Authorities said the village's 600 residents escaped in time.

They were less sure about the many holdouts who refused to answer evacuation orders Wednesday in three hamlets high on the slopes of the 16,575-foot volcano, which is some 85 miles south of the capital of Quito.

"This is an indescribable catastrophe. The houses have collapsed. The rocks that fell caused injuries and burns," said Juan Salazar, mayor of Penipe, one of the villages.

A boy cleans the roof of his house that is full of ashes from Tungurahua Volcano Thursday in Banos, Ecuador. Col. Robert Rodriguez, deputy director of Ecuador's Civil Defense, said more than half the residents of Banos - a popular tourist city of 18,000 at the northeast foot of the volcano - had evacuated, many fleeing before dawn Thursday as the ash rained down.

A boy cleans the roof of his house that is full of ashes from Tungurahua Volcano Thursday in Banos, Ecuador. Col. Robert Rodriguez, deputy director of Ecuador's Civil Defense, said more than half the residents of Banos - a popular tourist city of 18,000 at the northeast foot of the volcano - had evacuated, many fleeing before dawn Thursday as the ash rained down.

In the village of Palitagua, roofs were pocked and perforated by flaming rocks, and there was heavy damage to the villages of Bilbao and Penipe. Chilibu, Choglontuz and Palitagua "no longer exist - everything is wiped out," Salazar said.

Rescuers recovered one body in Penipe and four others were believed trapped under the rubble. "There are 60 other people who are on the high flanks of the volcano whom we could not get to this morning," he said.

The pyroclastic flow - superheated material that shoots down the sides of volcanos like a fiery avalanche at up to 190 mph - damaged access roads and blocked three rivers: the Patate, Puela and Chambo.

That forced the shutdown of the nearby Agoyan hydroelectric plant, denying power to all or part of four jungle provinces, said Alejandro Ribadeneira, president of Ecuador's National Electrification Council.

After remaining dormant for eight decades, Tungurahua rumbled back to life in 1999 and has been active ever since, registering booming explosions in May that shattered windows in outlying communities.

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