Government officials and geologists from Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute have a message for people living close to the Cotopaxi volcano: Don’t let down your guard.
“People are getting tired of hearing it, but this volcano is more dangerous than ever,” says Mario Ruiz, director of Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute. “It is very difficult to keep the population on high alert after four months, but this is our job. Pressure continues to build under the volcano and we believe an eruption is imminent,” he says.
Government risk management officials are also worried that communities in the eruption danger zone are feeling less urgency in making preparations. They note that evacuation drills that are conducted on a weekly basis, are attracting fewer and fewer participants. “People tell us that they know what to do and don’t need to join the drills but this is the worst time to become complacent,” says César Navas, Minister of Security.
Navas’ office sent directions to dozens of communities this week, asking that they redouble efforts to involve citizens.
In an effort to emphasize the continuing danger of an eruption, the government held a press conference Friday morning with geologists, risk management officials and the governor of Cotopaxi Province.
Patricia Mothes of the Geophysical Institute emphasized that because the external activity at Cotopaxi has shown little change in recent weeks does not mean the danger level is stabilizing or going down. “We believe we are building toward an eruption and some indications are that it could be stronger and more destructive than we thought earlier,” she said. She said that recent measurement show that the amount of magma under the volcano is greater than previously detected.
“We must be clear. This volcano has not returned to a lower state of danger and the truth is, in fact, the opposite,” she added.
Mothes told the press that prior to the disastrous 1887 eruption, the activity at Cotopaxi was similar to what it is now. “For more than a year, vapor was visible above the crater and people assumed that that was permanent condition. Then it erupted and many, many people died.”
Pablo Morillo, regional risk management director, said that drills are critically important. “Now, more than ever, we must be prepared and alert. We are expecting an eruption and we ignore that fact with grave risk to our lives.”
Morillo told the press conference that we should think of Cotopaxi as a time bomb. “We just don’t know how the clock is set.”