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Ecuador volcano prompts evacuations

Ash rises from Ecuador's Tunguharua volcano, south of Quito
Ash rises from Ecuador's Tunguharua volcano on Saturday. Str / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Thousands of Ecuadorian villagers have fled their homes on the slopes of the Tungurahua volcano since it began erupting lava and toxic gases, authorities said Saturday.

No injuries have been reported, but some 3,700 people have abandoned their homes in half a dozen hamlets since Friday, the Civil Defense said.

“There have been no victims, but all the vegetation has died and we have lost cattle,” said Juan Salazar, mayor of Penipe County, which includes two villages where 300 families have been forced to evacuate.

In May, the volcano, located 85 miles south of the capital of Quito, began emitting its loudest and most frequent explosions since it rumbled back to life nearly seven years ago after being inactive for eight decades.

On Friday, the Geophysics Institute reported that the 16,550-foot-high volcano had changed its behavior drastically by expelling at least four lava flows — the first since activity resumed.

Hugo Yepes, director of the institute, said the wind was carrying ash from the explosions up to 75 miles west of the volcano.

On Saturday, the institute said the explosions had lessened in frequency to every half an hour, from every five minutes on Friday.

Banos, a city of 20,000 people at the foot of the volcano, appeared to be out of danger because it is on the eastern side.