July 14, 2006

Ecuador volcano spews rocks, villages evacuated

QUITO, Ecuador (Reuters) - Ecuador's Tungurahua volcano
spewed ash, gases and molten rocks on Friday, forcing
authorities to evacuate four nearby villages after the crater
registered its most volatile activity since a 1999 eruption.

Tungurahua, located about 81 miles south of Quito, has been
increasingly active since May when it shot out large clouds of
hot gas and prompted officials to renew a limited state of
emergency in nearby towns.

Civil defense authorities ordered evacuations in four small
villages in the areas surrounding the volcano, whose name means
"throat of fire" in local indigenous Quichua language.

It is one of the eight active volcanoes in Ecuador.

"The volcano has been active for some time, but this is an
eruption that goes beyond the sustained and moderate... and has
become an eruption of much more energy," said Hugo Yepez,
director of a local geophysics institute.

Local television stations showed images of molten rocks
blasting from the crater while radio reported ash raining down
on the Andean provinces of Tungurahua and Chimborazo.

Authorities have not yet declared a red alert, which would
trigger a forced evacuation of all neighboring areas, one
official said.

The volcano's crater is 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.

Emergency centers were set up in Banos to receive any
residents fleeing from nearby villages.