Ashfall danger from Sangay volcano subsides but officials remain on alert

Dec 12, 2019 | 2 comments

Ecuador’s Risk and Emergency Management Service reported Wednesday night that visibility and air quality were improving in Cuenca due to a slight shift in wind direction. They predicted clearer skies for Thursday but said local officials should remain on alert in case of a change as the Sangay volcano continues to erupt.

A woman observes the hazy skies over Cuenca Wednesday from the Parque Libertad observation tower. (El Tiempo)

Wednesday’s murky skies over Azuay and Cañar Provinces were the result of emissions from the Sangay eruption in Morona Santiago Province, 104 kilometers (about 65 miles) northeast of Cuenca. The volcano has been in an eruptive phase since May with activity intensifying since mid-November.

Light ashfall was reported in communities north and east of Cuenca with heavier amounts recorded in some parts of the Cajas Mountains. No ashfall was recorded in Cuenca.

The University of Azuay meteorology research office posted air quality readings throughout the day Wednesday and at one point reported that the Particulate Matter (PM) index reached 81, at the high end of the a acceptable scale. By Wednesday night, the reading had dropped to 30, considered normal.

Cuenca Mariscal La Mar closed briefly Wednesday afternoon but reopened at 7 p.m.  Barring a change in air quality, the airport administration said it would be up to the airlines to make changes to flight schedules on Thursday. “As of Wednesday night, there is no safety issue for the cancellation of flights,” the airport administrator Tweeted.

The Cuenca air quality index posted Wednesday night by the University of Azuay.

In response to calls to cancel Wednesday classes at area schools, Azuay Governor Xavier Martínez said the health risk was minimal and did not warrant a change from normal activities. “Despite appearances, air quality remains acceptable throughout the province,” he said. “We continue to monitor the situation and will take necessary action if there is a deterioration in air quality.”

Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute reported that emissions above Sangay rose to a height of 1.5 kilometers Wednesday morning and predicted that volcanic activity will continue.

There was a run on surgical masks Wednesday at area pharmacies, with some selling out according to social media reports. A city health health officer said, however, that the air particles were too small to be stopped by the masks.

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