Just as government officials are quickening the pace of preparations for a possible eruption of Cotopaxi, they have a second volcano to worry about.
Tungurahua, east of Ambato, which has been in an eruptive stage since 1999, recorded several explosions on Thursday, sending clouds of ash a kilometer into the sky. Farmers near the volcano reported heavy ash fall on crops and were concerned for their livestock.
The Geophysical Institute said there were five explosions inside the Tungurahua crater Thursday morning and two more late in the afternoon. Local governments are meeting to make preparations and are asking the federal government for agricultural assistance. Ash fall was reported in the communities of San Juan, Pillate, and Cotaló, close to the volcano.
Although Tungurahua threatens areas near the volcanco, especially the tourist town of Baños, officials say that it is far less powerful than Cotopaxi.
In Latacunga and Quito, officials held a number of meetings Thursday as concerns grow about evacuating thousands of people from river valleys near Cotopaxi that could be inundated by pyroclastic flows and lahars. New concerns followed a government survey of vulnerable areas in low-lying areas.
The Geophysical Institute reported that activity at the volcanic remained steady Thursday and early Friday morning, with large ash plumes drifting to the west. Although ash fall was heaviest closer to the volcano, it was also reported as far away as several coastal communities.
Thursday’s emergency meetings focused on evacuation strategies in Cotopaxi, Pichincha, Napo and Tungurahua Provinces as well as follow-up plans to take career of evacuees after an eruption.
Ambato Mayor Luis Amoroso was in Latacunga to advise on Cotopaxi preparation although he admitted his attention was divided between Cotopaxi and Tungurahua, which is 15 kilometers east of Ambato.
Amoroso said the threat of lahars, large landslides of water, ice, rocks and other debris, poses the major danger from Cotopaxi. “The people in the valleys where the lahars would flow are in great danger and would need to be moved very quickly to safety in case of an eruption,” he said. “I’m afraid lahars produced by a large eruption would be catastrophic.”
Emergency officials say that larhars could reach some areas as soon as 15 seconds after an eruption.
The planning meetings also reviewed plans to designate and equip shelters that would be used to house those displaced by an eruption.