Latest Tungurahua Eruptions Cause Havoc in Banos and Ambato
Powerful eruptions at the Tungurahua volcano, located in the central Andean region of Ecuador, have sent local villagers and tourists scurrying for cover as the volcano’s latest rumblings create havoc in the nearby towns of Banos and Ambato.
The Instituto Geofisico Escuela Politécnica Nacional of Ecuador (IGPEN) reported that Tungurahua has experienced a “significant increase” in eruptions. There have been two explosions of moderate size with columns of ash five kilometers above the summit. As a result of the eruptions, pyroclastic flows — hot volcanic gases, solids and encapsulated air — have descended 500 meters from the northern slope of the volcano. Ash clouds from eruptions and explosions have reached over eight kilometers in altitude, with ash falling as far south as Cuenca. The Geophysical Institute warns, “emissions of ash and pyroclastic flows continue to descend.”
A violent explosion on February 1st generated large pyroclastic flows due to the collapse of the eruption column. A strong phase of activity (a paroxysm) occurred with a series of powerful explosions that produced an ash plume over 40,000 ft (13 km) in altitude, and pyroclastic flows to up to eight kilometers in length.
On February 2nd, small explosions and ash emissions were recorded. At 10:40 local time, an episode of harmonic tremor with a deep origin was recorded, suggesting that more magma might be rising from within the volcano.
Last night and this morning (Feb. 3), there have been at least 10 explosions of moderate size which were reported as sounding like heavy artillery fire and lasting several minutes. Some were so intense that they could be heard several kilometers away. An ash column rose about 4 km above the summit during the largest explosion and drifted northwards.
IGPEN writes that the most likely scenario for the near future are continuing discrete explosions of similar size as yesterday and today, accompanied with strong ash emissions, causing ash fall and possibly pyroclastic flows.
A second most likely scenario is that activity declines at the surface while internal pressure builds up towards another major explosion.
Both scenarios involve a high risk for anyone in the areas close to the volcano, particularly in low-lying areas in and around valleys draining from the mountain.
Potentially heavy ash falls can be expected in areas lying in the main wind direction and is likely to seriously affect agriculture, livestock and of course the health of the people exposed to the ash. Furthermore, ash plumes from the current activity are a serious hazard to air traffic in the area.
The population of surrounding villages Chacao, Chambiato, Cusua, and Pillate were evacuated following the latest eruptions. Government officials are rushing to aid farmers near the volcano as ash, in some places up to eight inches thick, has destroyed crops and blanketed pastures. The main concern is getting food and water to livestock. In a 2006 eruption, more than 200,000 cattle, horses and pigs died due to lack of food and water.
Tungurahua’s last major eruption was in July 2013.