Unusually strong upper level winds have blanketed a large swath of southern Ecuador with volcanic ash from the Sangay volcano. According to the National Geophysical Institute, a collapse inside the volcano sent a large amount of ash several kilometers into the atmosphere where it was carried west toward the coast.
In addition to Guayaquil, dozens of communities in Chimborazo, Santa Elena, Guayas and Los Ríos were covered in several millimeters of ash Tuesday morning. Officials in Alausí, Cumandá, Chunchi and Guamote in Chimborazo Province ordered residents to remain indoors and prohibited vehicular traffic.
Benjamin Barnard, Geophysical Institute volcanologist, said the high winds were the primary reason for the ashfall that fell as far away as the Pacific Ocean. “Most of the time, these emissions stay close to the volcano, falling within a few kilometers of the mountain, but sometimes strong winds take it greater distances, as far away as Cuenca and, today, to Guayaquil,” he said. “The situation was aggravated by the internal collapse and a slightly elevated level of activity.”
In Alausí, the cantonal Emergency Operations Committee ordered all roads cleared of traffic until 10 a.m. on Wednesday. It also warned residents to filter water before drinking it, saying that boiling it would not eliminate the ash particles.
The international airport in Guayaquil was closed at 11 Tuesday morning, administrators saying it would reopen when ashfall stops.
Barnard said that residents in the affected areas should wear masks when they go outside. “We are already under rules to wear masks because of the coronarvirus but now it is doubly important,” he said. “The ash is similar to small glass particles and can cause serious lung damage when it is inhaled.”