The eruption of Ecuador's Tungurahua volcano has forced the evacuation of a dozen towns and villages in the central sierra and has blanketed parts of the coast in ash. The ash cloud, moving in a west, southwesterly direction, was also disrupting national and international air travel as the Guayaquil airport was forced to close at mid-day Friday. Some flights between Quito to Cuenca were also cancelled.
Ecuador’s Geophysical Institute said that Tungurahua, located about 100 miles south of Quito and 150 north of Cuenca, erupted Friday morning and that activity within the volcano continued throughout the day. The largest eruption occurred at 8:47 a.m. sending an ash cloud 10 kilometers into the atmosphere. Lava and pyroclastic flows cascaded down the northern and western flanks of the volcano, forcing the evacuations. A second strong explosion followed at 11:00 a.m.
By Friday night, the Geophysical Institute reported that the eruption was subsiding but cautioned that the situation could change.
Communities subject to evacuation included Bilbao, Chacauco, Bascunan, Runtún, and Juive Grande. Bilbao is in Chimborazo province while the other towns are in Tungurahua province. Authorities are considering an evacuation of Baños, the largest town in the region, but a final decision has not been made.
Vehicular traffic is restricted on roads near Ambato and Baños and authorities said more road closures are likely.
All air traffic in and out of Guayaquil has been suspended although a civil aviation spokesman said the situation is being evaluated on an hour-to-hour basis. A number of international flights to Quito have also been cancelled.
Although Quito and Cuenca are unaffected by the ash-fall, some flights between the two cities were cancelled Friday afternoon. The normal flight path between the cities crosses the ash cloud but some flights re-routed to the east, to avoid the ash.
Photo caption: Residents of Guayaquil wear gas masks as the ash cloud from the Tungurahua eruption blankets the city.