Ecuador Declares National State of Emergency as Volcano Erupts

Cotopaxi Volcano
The Cotopaxi volcano spews ashes in the Pichincha province, Ecuador, on Aug. 14, 2015. Photographer: Juan Cevallos/AFP via Getty Images

Ecuador’s government declared a nationwide state of emergency Saturday to prepare for a possible major eruption of a snow-capped volcano south of the nation’s capital, Quito.

The decree, which includes suspending some constitutional rights and banning media from publishing unauthorized information, will allow the government to redirect budgeted funds for a possible emergency and prevent rumors from inciting panic, President Rafael Correa said in his weekly television and radio address to the nation. The measures will last up to 60 days.

Cotopaxi, which rises about 19,350 feet (5,900 meters) above sea level, began erupting on Aug. 14. A series of explosions since have sent ash clouds as high as 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) into the air and led to preventative evacuations in towns south of Quito.

Cotopaxi is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Quito and last erupted between 1877 and 1880, according to the South American nation’s Geophysical Institute, known as IGEPN. About 2.2 million people live in the greater Quito metropolitan area, according to the 2010 census.

The volcano will probably continue to erupt with larger explosions in the short- to mid-term term as magma rises toward the volcano’s surface, IGEPN said in a report Friday.

Authorities are preparing for possible flooding and mudslides in towns surrounding the volcano, including Quito’s suburbs, if glaciers covering the peak are melted during an eruption. Much of the city’s urban expansion in recent decades has filled potential flood plains, increasing risks.

The geophysical institute reported new pyrochlastic flows, including rock and ash, down the volcano’s west flank around 8 a.m. local time Saturday. No injuries or damages have been reported.

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