Quito Declares Emergency
After Volcano Erupts
By Isabel Proano

QUITO, Ecuador (Reuters) - Ecuador's President, Gustavo Noboa, declared a state of emergency that shut down the nation's capital on Monday, as tons of gray ash from a massive volcanic eruption engulfed the Andean city.
El Reventador volcano erupted on Sunday after lying quietly for 26 years, shooting a mushroom cloud nearly 10 miles into the sky just east of the capital, Quito.
Hundreds of poor farmers living near the base of the volcano fled in fear, as once lush orchards and pastures for livestock suddenly turned into smoldering fields of ash.
"It was like Hell. It (the volcano) growled and threw out fire," said a Guadalupe Campoverde, who lives in a small farming community outside of Quito.
In the capital, the government closed schools, ordered workers to stay home and cleared airspace indefinitely as the expanding plume of volcanic ash hung above the city -- making breathing difficult.
A small fraction of the capital's 1.4 million inhabitants ventured from their homes early on Monday, wearing surgical masks and goggles, to survey once-green palm trees and black asphalt streets now turned a uniform gray by falling soot.
"Would you look at this," exclaimed a masked doorman, as he tried in vain to scrape a paste of thick, damp ash from a walkway.
Geologists were stunned by the sudden eruption, which continued spewing volcanic ash into the skies overnight on Sunday. Gases, ash and burning rock swept down the sides of the volcano, charring the jungle peak.
The 11,683-foot-high El Reventador calmed on Monday morning with levels of descending ash thinning, but scientists warned the volcano could start rumbling again soon. The volcano lies about 60 miles east of Quito.
"At the moment, everything is normal. But you just don't know. There is no way to forecast what could happen next," said Nayda Teran at Ecuador's National Geophysical Institute.
Ecuador's government tried to shield water supplies from the falling ash, but citizens living outside of Quito complained they had no potable water.
The humanitarian crisis was exacerbated as livestock -- the life-blood of many poor Ecuadorean farmers -- were getting sick as they grazed on soot-covered fields near the volcano.
Some farmers who fled their humble homes, mostly small wooden shacks, said they would return later on Monday to guard belongings before looters arrived.
"We're going back down there soon. What's happening is that there are many people who will steal if we leave our things alone," said farmer Jose Ricardo Chicharron, whose wife wept alongside him, fearing they had lost everything.
"There's not much we can do, even if we're afraid, because it (the eruption) is God's will. You never know when death will come," Chicharron said, as he gathered his family to venture back home.
Additional reporting by Amy Taxin
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