PINGUE, Ecuador (AP) -- An army colonel backed by a phalanx of 15
soldiers barricaded the road Wednesday to a now-deserted tourist
town at the base of the rumbling Tungurahua volcano.
"Nobody, absolutely nobody, passes. This is an order from the president,"
he told a group of villagers, reporters and photographers clamoring to get
by the military checkpoint.
Six miles farther down the winding highway, nestled in a narrow valley
foot of the 16,457-foot volcano, lies Banos -- a town of 17,000 evacuated
in the face of an eruption that could come in a matter of days.
All roads into the area were ordered closed Wednesday within a 15- to
20-mile radius of the crater, four days after scientists determined that lava
and ash from the snowcapped volcano could engulf the town.
The volcano, which has spewed a steady column of ash and steam,
appeared to be dying down Wednesday, said Hugo Yepez, director of
Ecuador's Geophysical Institute.
"But that's not good news because energy continues to accumulate below,
and that could indicate a violent explosion," he said.
Banos, famed for its hot springs and trekking, could be buried within 10
minutes of eruption, experts say.
In Pingue, just outside the emergency zone, Valentina Villacres said people
"sleep with one eye open."
"Behind this hill is the volcano. If you climb up a bit, you can see it,"
Villacres, 60, who lives in a simple wooden house at the foot of a hill. "They
say Pingue is out of danger, but we are afraid all the same. You can feel the
volcano at night."
Villacres said the moment authorities issue a warning of imminent eruption,
she will seek refuge in Ambato, a city of 300,000 people 20 miles to the
Tungurahua, 80 miles south of the capital Quito, has spewed molten lava
ash onto towns on its flanks 13 times since the first recorded eruption in
1534. The last eruption occurred in 1920.
Ecuador, suffering through its worst economic crisis in decades, has called
for aid from international relief agencies to help provide shelter and food for
some of the 25,000 people evacuated from Banos and a half dozen nearby
villages and hamlets.
In 1886, rivers of lava shot down the volcano's slopes, but stopped about
two miles shy of destroying Banos. A solid wall of volcanic rock, extending
for four miles, remains.
Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.