May 17, 2006

Ecuadorean volcano spews clouds of hot gas and ash

QUITO, Ecuador (Reuters) - Ecuador's Tungurahua volcano
increased its activity on Wednesday, spewing large clouds of
hot gas and prompting the government to renew a limited state
of emergency in nearby towns.

President Alfredo Palacio late on Tuesday renewed a state
of emergency in areas surrounding the 16,460-foot (5,020
meters) conical-shaped Tungurahua, located 81 miles south of
the capital Quito.

Authorities said there are currently no plans to evacuate
area residents.

"The volcanic activity has increased, but we have not
recommended an evacuation yet," said a National Civil Defense
spokeswoman. "We don't want to spark unneeded panic."

But flocks of villagers living near the volcano decided to
voluntarily leave their homes at night, saying the loud
explosions deprive them of sleep.

"This is like a horror movie, with loud sounds that bounce
off the walls ... like the explosion of dynamite sticks," said
Juan Salazar, the mayor of Penipe county located near the
skirts of the volcano.

The crater stands little over a mile south of the tourist
town of Banos whose 17,000 residents were forced to evacuate in
1999 after loud explosions and huge plumes of ash billowed out
of the volcano.