Although it’s been a month and a half since the Sangay volcano sent clouds of ash and gas over Cuenca, the continuing eruption is posing ongoing threats to central and southern Ecuador. On Monday and Tuesday, skies over Riobamba, Alausí and Guamote were filled with a volcanic haze and some areas reported light to moderate ashfall.
The National Risk Management Office issued a warning Tuesday morning for the affected area, urging residents to remain indoors if possible and to wear masks if they had to go outside. Schools in some communities were closed to protect children.
Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute says the Sangay eruption, which began in May, shows no sign of subsiding and says communities within 200 kilometers should remain on alert for ashfall and potentially unhealthy atmospheric conditions. In late December and early January, ashfall and lava flows down the flanks of the volcano temporarily blocked rivers close to Sangay, forcing the evacuation of several dozen families.
According to volcanologist Jorge Vicente, the gas and ashfall experienced near Cuenca on December 11 and 12 was unusual but says it could happen again. “The prevailing winds in this region are typically to the west, northwest and north,” which is why communities such as Riobamba, Ambato and Bolivar Province are at continuing risk,” he says. “The southerly and southwesterly winds that affected Cuenca are unusual but are not unheard of and areas south of the volcano should remain on alert.”
On December 11, air quality in Cuenca registered in the moderate danger range for the first time in more than a year due to gas and fine ash carried by southwesterly winds from Sangay. The city’s air quality particulate reading was well above the dangerous 100 mark for more than 24 hours, according to the University of Azuay meteorology office.
The 17,200-foot Sangay volcano is located in a remote area of Morona Santiago Province, about 110 kilometers northeast of Cuenca.
Vicente does not expect the Sangay eruption to intensify but says it is possible. “Volcanoes are notoriously unpredictable despite our monitoring capabilities. We must always be prepared for worst-case scenarios.”