Quito Covered In Ash By
Volcanic Eruption

By Amy Taxin

QUITO, Ecuador (Reuters) - Ecuador's El Reventador volcano erupted on Sunday, covering the capital Quito with thick ash that sparked health warnings and forced the airport to close indefinitely, authorities said.
Although there were no known fatalities from the avalanche of burning rock, health officials warned the city's 1.4 million inhabitants to stay indoors because of the danger of inhaling ash from the volcano about 60 miles to the east.
"Stay calm and don't leave your homes ... If you have to leave, please cover your nose and mouth with a damp cloth," said Col. Miguel Flores, civil defense chief for the Quito area, describing the ash as harmful if inhaled.
Juan Neira, manager of Quito's water company, told Reuters the company was studying the possible impact of ash contaminating drinking water. "We are in an emergency situation," he said.
El Reventador, an 11,683-foot peak in Ecuador's Amazon jungle whose name in Spanish means "the bursting one," began erupting at 7 a.m. (same EST) -- shooting a mushroom cloud nine miles into the sky.
Gases, ash and rock swept down the sides of the volcano, charring the jungle peak, darkening the mid-day skies and coating roads with cream-colored soot.
Red Cross officials said some 3,000 people living near the base of the volcano fled early in morning, as El Reventador slowly came to life, rumbling and emitting strong-smelling sulfur gases which acted as an natural alarm. Two people suffered burns as they tried to rescue belongings from their house.
Officials warned El Reventador could erupt again soon.
"I think this eruption is going to affect us in the coming days and in addition, it isn't a single event, but a volcanic process," said the director of Ecuador's Geophysical Institute, Hugo Yepez.
As the ash rolled over Quito, turning the sky a hazy pink, Sunday soccer games were scrapped and thousands of people emptied from a massive city park as parents swept their children off the streets and into homes.
The few people remaining on the roads carried umbrellas and covered their mouths with their shirt sleeves to avoid inhaling flakes of ash that fell like snow.
The city's airport was shut down indefinitely because of the damage the ash would do to aircraft engines. Regional air traffic control centers were alerted to direct aircraft clear of the ash cloud, Yepez said.
Quito was previously covered in ash three years ago when the nearby Guagua Pichincha volcano erupted. El Reventador's last eruption was in 1976.
"Nobody likes this (ash)," said Quito taxi driver Milton Romero, who turned on his headlights to help him navigate hazy streets. "But it's better than if it were a lava eruption."
Additional reporting by Isabel Proano, Carlos Andrade
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