Andean eruption destroys villages

Showers of incandescent rock and lava from a volcanic eruption in Ecuador’s Andes mountains destroyed nearby villages, killing at least one resident and sending thousands fleeing.

Showers of incandescent rock and lava from a volcanic eruption in Ecuador’s Andes mountains destroyed nearby villages, killing at least one resident and sending thousands fleeing.

Ecuadorian officials said they feared the death toll from the eruption of the Tungurahua volcano could rise because 60 people remained missing yesterday after the eruption smothered houses, damaged access roads and blocked the flow of three rivers.

Volcanic ash rained down about 230 kilometres to the west after Tungurahua’s 5,023-metre-high crater filled with magma and then exploded overnight.

The volcano was still unleashing a blast of gas and ash yesterday that reached as high as eight kilometres into the sky.

“Does God do this in other places or does this only happen here?” said Hortensia Chicaiza as she desperately searched for food for her livestock in ash-laden vegetation near the town of Queros, 20 kilometres northwest of the volcano.

At least a dozen villages on the volcano’s western slopes were seriously damaged or destroyed.

“This is an indescribable catastrophe,” said Juan Salazar, mayor of Penipe, one of the villages. "The houses have collapsed. The rocks that fell caused injuries and burns.”

In the village of Palitagua, roofs were pocked and perforated by flaming rocks, and there was heavy damage to the villages of Bilbao and Penipe.

Three other villages – Chilibu, Choglontuz and Palitagua – "no longer exist - everything is wiped out”, Salazar said.

Televised images showed just the tops of electricity poles jutting out from the smouldering pyroclastic flow that smothered 107 homes in the village of Juibe Grande, on the volcano’s northwest slope. Authorities said that village’s 600 residents escaped in time.

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