Stories from Tungurahua...

Volcano Tungurahua in the Ecuadorian Andes has been active since 1999, but over the last couple of months it has really come to life - affecting the lives of thousands in the region. Following is an email from University of South Florida anthropologist, Dr Linda Whiteford, who has been working in the region with those affected by eruptions that occurred in July. While there are many news stories on the current eruptions, there are really very few details about the enormity of the events. This email offers a unique view of someone there on the ground.

Quito Saturday 19th August

The volcano, Tungurahua, erupted violently this week with devastating pyroclastic flows, lava flows, and emissions of various size tephra that included volcanic bombs, pumice pellets, and huge quantities of ash that covered an extensive area of the country. A state of emergency was called.

We went into the field on Monday and worked around the volcano all day Tuesday and Wednesday morning to see the effects of the July 14th eruption. That earlier event had created all sorts of problems for many small communities - however less than twenty fours hours after our visit they were all gone. We had planned doing interviews in Banos on Wednesday (Banos sits at the base of the volcano) but were called by the vulcanologists at the volcano observatory and told to leave immediately. The volcano had been rumbling all morning (and continued for the next 16 hours or so) and the explosions rattled windows as far as 20 kilometers away. We took their advice and evacuated to the observatory where we watched some more very violent eruptions. Probably the most frightening was seeing the pyroclastic flows cascade down the mountain destroying the villages we had been in the day before, and all the time hoping that the residents had heeded the warning to get out. All of that, of course, is the subject of further research.

The eruptions continued all that afternoon and evening, and into the next day destroying the lives of many. The impacts can be seen everywhere; agriculture throughout a wide area has been damaged extensively, roads are gone, a river blocked by pyroclastic flows, electricity is out in some areas and we know that four villages no longer exist. Thousands have been evacuated and several people are dead with many others missing.

On Thursday, we found everything covered in ash and had serious problems getting around. Anyway, we managed to conduct interviews with some evacuees in the shelters and heard some terrifying stories. We eventually got out of the area riding in trucks, farm vehicles and walking; we were covered in ash. Yesterday we arrived back in Quito, safe and sound, where we were debriefed by the National Civil Defense. We should be home tomorrow...

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