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Friday, February 08, 2008

Ecuador eruption forces hundreds to evacuate

ABC News

Thu Feb 7, 2008

Ecuador's Tungurahua volcano has exploded into action, spewing red hot lava, rocks and a 10-kilometre high plume of ash that forced 1,450 people from their homes, officials say.

"The eruption is going on right now and continues to generate pyroclastic flows" of red-hot gas, ash and rocks down the volcano's western flank, Geophysical Institute director Hugo Yepez said.

The 5,029 metre mountain, 135 kilometres south of the capital Quito, began erupting with a series of loud explosions in the pre-dawn hours, waking more than 20,000 people living in 10 towns and villages in its surroundings.

The eruption so far has caused no injuries or damage, outside of tonnes of ash deposited on buildings and roads in Quero forcing its inhabitants to wear masks.

But some 400 families living closest to the volcano have been evacuated as a precaution.

"Most of the population has left, but we've got 12 families in Bilbao who refuse to leave and we're talking to them. If necessary, we'll use force [to evacuate them]," Tungurahua Province Governor Fernando Gonzalez said.

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa has put the region under a state of emergency to release federal funds and assistance programs.

Shelters and emergency centres in Tungurahua and nearby Chimborazo and Bolivar provinces have been put on standby in case the eruption takes a turn for the worse.

"The volcano has now gone into a period of zero-activity, and that's not good news. It could mean a bigger explosion is in store in the next minutes or hours. But we're ready," Internal and External Security Minister Gustavo Larrea said.

The Tungurahua volcano has been active since last month, with up to 30 explosions, earthquakes or rumblings per hour that forced 1,000 people to relocate to safer areas.

However, the latest eruption was similar to an August 2006 eruption that killed six people, buried several communities under ash and made 6,500 people homeless, the Geophysical Institute reported.

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