Government scientists and risk management officials have a warning for the thousands of residents living in the evacuations zones for the Cotopaxi volcano: The danger has not gone away and an eruption is possible at any time.
In recent weeks, government risk management officers have visited dozens of communities in the Cotopaxi evacuation zone, urging governments to remain on high alert for an eruption. “Because the volcano has been out of the news for several months, we worry that citizens have forgotten about it and let down their state of readiness,” said Paul Mora, spokesman for the the Quito risk management office. “Just because we don’t see smoke at the crater and just because there is no ash fall does not mean we can relax.”
In a Monday interview with Quito newspaper El Comerico, Patricia Mothes, director of Ecuador’s Volcanology Geophysics Institute said that activity at Cotopaxi is increasing. She said explosions within the volcano indicate that pressure is growing under the mountain.
“Because a blockage has formed in the volcano vent, we do not see and hear the internal activity but this does not mean it doesn’t exist,” Mothes said. “Since early January, the number of explosions has increased and internal pressure has gone up.” She added that seismic equipment on Cotopaxi is recording between one and three explosions per day and that 50 to 60 small earthquakes are being detected on a daily basis.
She says the recent activity indicates that magma below the volcano is rising, putting pressure on the blockage in the central vent. “This is a dangerous situation. It means that we could see large explosions that would destroy the blockage and allow steam, ash and lava to escape. We could be building toward an eruption and this is why it is important that the population in the affected areas remain on high alert.”
Mothes continued: “Cotopaxi has not gone back to sleep — it is alive and well and building toward new events. It is our hope that they are not catastrophic but they could be. We must be prepared.”