Speaking bluntly to residents near the Cotopaxi volcano on Tuesday, President Rafael Correa said a major eruption could have devastating consequences. Lives would be lost and others changed forever, he said.
The president said the toll would be high: entire towns and thousands of hectares of crop land destroyed; 10,000 homes lost; 45,000 left homeless; 25,000 businesses wiped out, leaving 35,000 unemployed. And it could be far worse in the case of a massive eruption.
“I cannot emphasize enough the seriousness of what we face,” Correa said. “The government is working hard to prepare for what is to come but we must all work together, government and citizens, to do everything we can to save lives.”
Correa said years of neglect of the danger means that planning must be completed in a short period of time. “For years, we have ignored the volcano and have not developed the plans necessary to deal with evacuations,” he said. “Now, we are dealing with that neglect and we have to work quickly to overcome it.”
Before talking to the public, Correa met with the governor of Cotopaxi Province and emergency personnel in Mulaló, one of the communities most vulnerable to an eruption. The town is built on volcanic material deposited during the last major of eruptions of Cotopaxi in 1877 and 1880. He reviewed evacuations plans, as well as plans to help those displaced after an eruption.
After the meeting, Latacunga Mayor Patricio Sanchez said that much of the preparation work for an eruption is being carried out in an atmosphere of “uncertainty and despair. We know that it is possible that we could lose everything,” he said. Latacunga, population 100,000, is the largest city in the volcano danger zone. It has been destroyed three times since the 1600s by eruptions.
Speaking in a light shower of ash, Correa said there are plans to move livestock to safer areas if an eruption appears imminent but he said there would be serious agricultural losses. “We will do our best to save what we can but we must put emphasis first on saving the lives of people.”
Correa said that $500 million is available to help with disaster relief, adding that economic conditions make it difficult to find additional funds. He said that people cannot rely entirely on the government and must be prepared to take the personal actions necessary to protect themselves and their families.
The Ministry of Security and Risk Management, which is coordinating emergency planning, reports that 1,566 people have been trained to assist with evacuations and that 329 emergency response brigades have been formed in the danger zone. Soldiers have also been brought in to assist with preparations.
In its latest report early Wednesday morning, Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute says that the level of volcanic activity at Cotopaxi remains constant and that ash fall has reached Manabi Province and the Pacific Ocean.