October 1, 2005

El Salvador volcano kills two, thousands flee

By Rene Tobar

PALO CAMPANA, El Salvador (Reuters) - El Salvador's largest
volcano erupted for the first time in a century on Saturday,
killing two people and forcing thousands to flee their homes.

The Ilamatepec volcano, also known as Santa Ana, hurled out
hot rocks, ash and boiling water on Saturday morning and a
massive plume of smoke rose more than 10 miles into the air.

Two people were killed under a landslide caused by the
volcano's eruption in the small community of Palo Campana, near
the crater, the government said.

A few homes were destroyed. "I have lost everything. I have
no money, nothing, just my children and my husband," said
73-year-old Rosa Flores, whose small home was set ablaze by a
red-hot rock as she made breakfast.

A 12-year-old boy, Fernando Gonzalez, was desperately
looking for his parents. "I'm scared. I saw big stones fall and
one had smoke coming from it."

El Salvador's government declared a red alert and evacuated
more than 4,000 people by late afternoon with 3,000 more
expected to be moved out.

"The important thing is to save people, that is the first
phase of this emergency," President Tony Saca told reporters.

Ilamatepec is the largest of El Salvador's 23 volcanoes and
stands 7,800 feet above sea level in a major coffee-growing
area about 40 miles west of the capital.

Its last eruption was in 1904 but it has been increasingly
active since last year.

Homes and vehicles were covered in a thick layer of ash,
and some of the area's coffee plantations were damaged.

"Many trees have been burned, for sure," said Sergio Gil,
who leads the Procafe coffee institute. "It is a delicate
situation, the ashes have reached as far as Apaneca, about 25
kilometers (15 miles) from the crater."

The coffee-growing region around Ilamatepec accounts for a
large chunk of El Salvador's coffee output.

The nearby city of Santa Ana escaped damage from the
volcanic eruption.

(Additional reporting by Alberto Barrera in San Salvador)