As a result of what Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute calls “moderate but continuous activity,” volcanic ash from the Sangay volcano is blanketing a large area of western Morona Santiago Province. On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health announced it planned to relocate several dozen families whose health it considers endangered by the ashfall.
Since mid-November, the ash and gas emissions from the volcano have affected areas surrounding the volcano, leaving several small communities coated with ash. The towns of San Isidro, Sinai and Suñag have been the hardest hit.
“More than 50 million cubic meters of volcanic material has fallen here in the last six weeks,” says San Isidro Mayor Franklin Galarza. “We are especially concerned about the people living near the confluence of the Volcan and Upano rivers. We also worry that the ash could cause a blockage where the rivers meet, causing possible flooding.”
Galarza said that families that will be relocated have been notified and that trucks will be provided by the government for the relocation.
More than 4,000 masks have been distributed in communities close to Sangay and health ministry officials say they should be worn at all times until the ashfall ends. “The ash poses a serious threat to the health of residents if it is inhaled and we urge that people remain indoors as much as possible and use the masks when they go outdoors,” the mayor said.
He added that the ash also poses risks to animals and urged farmers to provide shelter for livestock if possible.
According to the Geophysical Institute, Sangay entered an eruptive phase in May and activity has intensified since early November. On Wednesday, ash and gas emissions rose to a height of 1,700 meters above the volcano and volcanologists expect the eruption to continue for the foreseeable future. The institute said there remains a danger of ash drifting as much as 150 kilometers from the volcano but said irregular wind direction made predicting ashfall difficult. In the last three weeks, ash has fallen in Chimborazo, Canar and Azuay provinces, in addition to Morona Santiago.
The 5,232 meters (17,165 feet) Sangay volcano is located in western Morona Santiago Province, about 65 miles north of Cuenca.