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Ecuador's Tungurahua Volcano Spews Rocks, Ash

Sunday, January 13th 2008 - 20:00 UTC
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The volcano as seen from the nearby city of Baños The volcano as seen from the nearby city of Baños

Ecuador's Tungurahua volcano on Saturday hurled fiery rocks and sent a column of ash and steam 1 1/2 miles above its crater. Experts have warned that Tungurahua is poised for a major eruption within a matter of days or weeks.

On Sunday, 1,000 villagers were evacuated from 10 hamlets on the western slopes of the 16,575-foot volcano in central Ecuador. Silvia Vallejo, a volcanologist at Ecuador's Geophysics Institute, told Radio Sonorama that Thursday's eruption sent a column of ash and steam 1 1/2 miles into the air. She added the explosions were accompanied by roars from within the volcano and there have been reports it showered ash down on nearby villages. Tungurahua, which has been active since 1999, has been releasing a high level of energy since Dec. 22, according to U.S. volcanologist Cynthia Mothes. She told The Associated Press that it could cause mean pyroclastic flows â€" blasts of volcanic material "that descend at high speeds and burn everything in their way." Housing Minister Maria de los Angeles Duarte told journalists that the government will have 500 temporary homes ready for evacuated villagers in the next few days. Tungurahua, whose name means "throat of fire" in the indigenous Quichua language, erupted in July and August 2006, causing at least four deaths. Those eruptions forced the evacuation of thousands of villagers and buried crops for miles around under ashes and lava flows.

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