Following three days of relative calm, the Cotopaxi volcano on Thursday blasted two plumes of gas and ash into the atmosphere. The first emission, reported by the Geophysical Institute at 7:30 a.m., was blown toward the west and southwest by strong winds. The second plume, spotted in the late afternoon, was larger and rose 1.5 kilometers above the crater.
Friday morning, the Institute said a shift in wind direction to the northwest could drop ash over southern sections of Quito.
According to the Geophysical Institute, there have been no explosions within the volcano crater since last weekend.
Meanwhile, planning for possible evacuations continued with a new sense of urgency. Managers of relief and rescue agencies, as well as ECU 911 technicians, from Rumiñahui, Latacunga, and Quito, met in Rumiñahui to review strategies.
Rumiñahui Mayor Hector Jacome said that the meetings were intended to coordinate contingency plans between local governments. “Municipalities need to coordinate drills, review evacuation routes and other plans so we can work in concert in case of an emergency,” he said. “We have a great deal of work to accomplish in a short period of time.”
Director of Security Operations for Quito, Juan Zapata, said his focus was on purchasing emergency supplies such as masks, mobile restrooms and kitchens, and more. “We cannot just plan for the evacuation, we also need to plan for the aftermath of an eruption, taking care of thousands of displaced people,” he said.
Another topic at the meetings were the thousands of head of cattle who would be in the path of pyroclastic flows and lahars. If there is sufficient warning, an official from Latcunga said, cattle could be transported to higher ground and said plans are being developed for such an evacuation. The logistics for such an operation would be very complicated he said. “Besides moving them, we would have to figure out how to keep the herds together,” he said.
He added that a large eruption may not allow time to move livestock. “If the eruption is like the one in 1877, there will only be about 15 minutes from the time of the first warning until the lava and floods reach the valley. We will have all we can handle to get the people to safety and will not be able to save the cows.”
Another topic that has been discussed in areas vulnerable to an eruption is what to do about pets.
Cotopaxi, which had shown little activity since the 1940s, reactivated in April and has shown increasing activity since then. Director of Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute, Mario Ruiz, says that the signs indicate there will be an eruption in the coming days, weeks or months. He said it is also possible an eruption could happen at any moment.