Sunday, August 20, 2006

The eruption of volcano Tungurahua on August 16 destroyed several small villages in the Ecuadorian Andes. At least 6 people have been killed and about 4000 residents of the affected area have been evacuated.

The 5,023 m high volcano spat lava, stones and ash for several hours on Wednesday night. A 10km high ash cloud spread over an area of 740 by 180 km. Towns like Ambato or Riobamba, 30 km away from the volcano have been covered with up to 5cm of ash. Pyroclastic flows descending on the northwestern slopes of the volcano left a path of destruction behind.

At least seven small villages and hamlets have been completely destroyed. The ash and rocks blocked the Chambo and the Peula river and the road Ambato – Baños, one of the main connections between the Ecuadorian highlands and the Amazon region. The Institute for Geophysics has lost an important part of its equipment installed on the slopes of Tungurahua, limiting their capability to monitor the volcanic activity.

The Hydroelectric power plant Agoyan near Baños has been shut down since Wednesday night. On Thursday, air traffic in the whole country was limited due to ash layers on several airports. On Thursday the provinces of Chimborazo, Tungurahua, Cotopaxi and Bolivar have been declared a disaster area. Losses in agriculture due to the ash cover are estimated at $150 Million.

On Friday, volcanic activity decreased to a calm that remained into Saturday evening, but the Ecuadorian Institute for Geophysics warns that a further eruption may be imminent.

In 1999, after a long period of rest, the volcano started an eruptive process that continues to this day. After the first eruptions in October 1999 that produced a major ash out-fall and led to the temporary evacuation of more than 25,000 inhabitants of Baños and its surroundings, the activity continued on a medium level. In May 2006 it increased dramatically culminating in violent eruptions on July 14 and August 16.