August 6, 1999

Volcanic activity prompts 'maximum alert' in Nicaragua

                  MALPAISILLO, Nicaragua (AP) --  In the face of a new eruption,
                  Nicaragua's government declared a "maximum alert" Friday for towns
                  near the Cerro Negro Volcano and evacuated families frightened by
                  earthquakes and spurts of ash and glowing rocks.

                  Lava and ash spewed from three new openings at the volcano, 70 kms
                  (44 miles) northwest of Managua, Thursday night though activity had abated
                  Friday morning.

                  Some 500 people were evacuated Friday from towns on the volcano's
                  slopes, Maj. Alberto Narvaez of the Civil Defense said. They were being
                  taken to schools and health centers in the towns of Malpaisillo, Telica and

                  Some 1,220 people were evacuated Thursday when the volcano emitted a
                  rain of fine ash over the residents' humble huts and fields, Civil Defense Lt.
                  Carlos Caceres said.

                  Families fled their towns on ox-drawn carts carrying their rustic furniture as
                  well as dogs and chickens.

                  "We're going because we're scared," Leoncio Aburto said Thursday upon
                  arriving at one of the seven refugee centers set up in Malpaisillo, 10 kms (six
                  miles)northeast of the volcano. "The volcano made a horrible noise and if it
                  blows up, God help us."

                  Leading his cart, Aburto was followed by his wife and five small children
                  who covered their heads with sheets to protect them from the rain of black

                  The government declared the "maximum alert" on the recommendation of the
                  Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies, which sent experts to the Cerro
                  Negro to study its status.

                  The institute said more than 200 volcanic earthquakes have been
                  recorded in the area in the last three days, the stronger ones sending
                  residents running from their homes.

                  President Arnoldo Aleman visited the region Thursday afternoon and
                  named his vice president, Enrique Bolaños as head of an emergency

                  "We trust in God that a tragedy will not occur. But everything is ready
                  to deal with any type of situation," Aleman said before leaving Friday for
                  Miami, where he was to celebrate his engagement to wed.

                  An estimated 1,700 people live on the volcano's flanks, many of them
                  farmers who are reluctant to evacuate because they do not want to leave
                  behind livestock and crops.

                  The Cerro Negro, some 900 meters (2,953 feet) high, made its first eruption
                  in 1867 and has had two more this decade, in 1992 and 1995. It forms part
                  of a chain of nearly 20 volcanoes known as the Marrabios or Maribios,
                  which crosses from southeastern Nicaragua to the northwest.

                  Last October, Hurricane Mitch caused a lake atop the Casitas Volcano to
                  burst open, killing more than 2,000 people near the city of Posoltega.