- 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
- 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
- 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
- "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
- Additional reporting by Amy Taxin
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