A powerful eruption of the Sangay volcano has covered large areas of Chimborazo, Bolívar, Guayas and Los Ríos Provinces in ash. At noon Sunday, officials suspended flights at the Guayaquil International Airport and Ecuador’s national transit authority said several highways and secondary roads have been closed due to poor visibility.
The Geophysical Institute said that the eruption that occurred early Sunday morning is the strongest recorded in more than year at Sangay and appears to be ongoing. According to the institute, the eruption sent an ash and gas 10 kilometers into the atmosphere and prevailing winds have sent ash as far west as Santa Elena, Portoviejo and Manta, on the Pacific Ocean.
In a 5 p.m. statement, the Geophysical Institute said it is unsure of how long the eruption will continue and warned communities to the west of Sangay, which is located 80 northeast of Cuenca in Morona Santiago Province, to prepare for continued ashfall. “We are gathering data about the status of the eruption and will provide advisories as the data is analyzed. Due to the intensity of the activity, our ability to collect information is restricted,” the statement said.
The communities hardest-hit by ashfall are Guamote, Alausí, Chunchi, Pallatanga and Cumandá in Chimborazo Province, but the Ecuador Risk Management Service said as much as three millimeters of ash was reported in some areas of Bolivar, Guayas and Los Rios Provinces. Ash began falling Guayaquil, Samborondón and Daule in Guayas Province shortly after noon.
Farmers in Chimborazo and Bolívar are worried about livestock and crops loses and the Ministry of Agriculture plans to dispatch teams to the area Monday morning. The ministry says as many as a million head of large livestock are at risk due to contaminated water and grazing foliage.
Emergency operations officials are asking residents of the affected areas to cover their mouth and nose with a mask to avoid breathing ash particles, to wash exposed skin with clean water and soap and to collect ash on surfaces in garbage bags. They warn that if ash is washed into sewers and rains it can harden and block water flow.
Following clean-up operations, the Guayaquil airport resumed operations Monday morning.