December 10, 1999
Volcano blows vapor and ash near Ecuador capital

                  QUITO, Ecuador (AP) -- The Pichincha volcano blew a huge cloud of
                  vapor and ash nine kilometers (five miles) into the sky late Friday, but
                  southwesterly winds appeared to be carrying most of the volcanic material
                  away from the capital city.

                  "We are still evaluating the proportions of the explosion, but as of now we
                  can say it was one of the largest," Quito Mayor Roque Sevilla said.

                  Pichincha awoke from 339 years of inactivity last year, and for the last two
                  and a half months has registered a series of large and small eruptions.

                  Last month, an eruption from the 4,800-meter (15,840-foot) volcano burst
                  15 kilometers (nine miles) into the sky and blanketed the city of 1.4 million
                  residents with a heavy coating of gray ash, in some areas as thick as one
                  centimeter (a quarter inch).

                  The mushroom-shaped eruption Friday "was a marvelous spectacle, but also
                  frightening because of the possible shower of ash" that could result, said

                  "All indications are that the wind will dissipate the cloud in a matter of
                  hours," he added.

                  City residents were warned to be prepared with masks to prevent inhaling
                  the acrid ash.

                  Pichincha's crater, which scientists do not expect to produce an explosion of
                  lava, lies on a lower side of a mountain range, 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) west
                  of the capital, facing away from the city.

                  It has not been considered a direct threat to Quito's population, although
                  explosions of ash have several times prompted the closure of schools and
                  Quito's airport.

                  The last giant eruption from Pichincha occurred in 1660, and did not kill
                  anyone, but spewed ash for nine days.