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Peru declares emergency in towns near volcano

A volcano in southern Peru spewed a fresh plume of gray smoke high into the sky on Thursday, alarming villagers who have seen their livestock sickened or killed by ash falling on pastureland.
Local resident wears mask to protect himself from ashes spewing from Peru's volcano Ubinas in Querapi
A villager wears a mask to protect himself from ashes spewing from the Ubinas volcano in Querapi, Peru, on Thursday. Mariana Bazo / Reuters
/ Source: Reuters

The Peruvian government declared a state of emergency Saturday in southern towns that have been showered by ash from the Ubinas volcano and asked the military to help evacuate poor farming families from the area.

Ubinas, which had been inactive for almost 40 years, has been spitting out ash, smoke and toxic gases for most of the month, alarming thousands of people living in nearby rural areas, killing livestock and polluting water sources.

The government recommended evacuation early in the week, but it was not until Friday that dozens of people began reluctantly to leave farming towns in the area covered in a thick carpet of ash.

“The head of state asked for the armed forces to help evacuate 42 families from the town of Querapi, in the Ubinas district, the town nearest the volcano,” the government said in a news release.

Querapi is an impoverished, telephone-less hamlet 2.5 miles from the volcano, which is in the Moquegua department 550 miles south of Lima.

Evacuees arrived Friday and Saturday in Arequipa, the city closest to Querapi -- a rough six-hour bus ride. Others have refused to leave because they want to stay to protect their livestock, crops, and belongings, or because they have no transport out of the area.

Some of those who have abandoned their homes sold their cattle at whatever price they could get, as little as $30 a head.

The 18,700-feet high Ubinas has erupted 23 times since 1550 and is considered one of Peru’s most active volcanoes.

The ministers of health and agriculture and the head of the National Civil Defense Institute were scheduled to head a delegation to Ubinas Sunday to deliver food, tents, masks and veterinary medication for animals that have been harmed from breathing toxic gas.