September 28, 1999

Ecuador's capital placed on alert as volcano rumbles

                  QUITO, Ecuador (AP) -- Residents of Ecuador's capital Quito are under a
                  fresh warning that the nearby Guagua Pichincha volcano could erupt in a
                  matter of days.

                  "Above all else, we must remain calm, but the countdown to an eventual
                  eruption has commenced," Roque Sevilla, Quito's mayor, said Monday night.
                  "We are talking about days or weeks within which we must be prepared."

                  The volcano, located seven miles (12 kilometers) from Quito has been
                  billowing immense clouds of water vapor more than two miles (3 kilometers)
                  high since Aug. 24.

                  Last October, the region was placed under alert after rising lava levels within
                  the volcano were first detected.

                  But on Monday, Sevilla upgraded the alert on advice from Ecuador's
                  geophysical institute.

                  However, institute scientists said if and when the volcano bursts, devastation
                  for Quito and its 1.4 million is highly unlikely.

                  The city would be shielded from a lava eruption by the taller, inactive
                  Pichincha volcano, which overlooks the city. Guagua Pichincha is 1,320 feet
                  (400 meters) shorter than Pichincha and its crater faces away from Quito.

                  "Evacuation of Quito is not necessary because the only danger it faces are
                  ash raining down," Sevilla said.

                  Still, Education Minister Rosangela Adum called for the closure of
                  elementary schools and high schools in the capital city.

                  In greater danger are the 5,000 residents in villages of Lloa, Nono and
                  Mindo, which sit on the volcano's flanks and could be hit by lava, toxic
                  smoke and volcanic ash, scientists said.

                  Sevilla said civil defense and military forces would be dispatched Tuesday to
                  Lloa, considered the most vulnerable village, to prepare an emergency
                  evacuation plan.

                  The last time Guagua Pichincha erupted was in 1660. The eruption spewed
                  ashes for nine days, but did not kill anyone.