BOGOTA – Colombian authorities ordered inhabitants to evacuate the area around the Galeras volcano near the Ecuadorian border that erupted and showered ash over several villages in the southern province of Nariño without taking any victims or causing material damage.
The 4,276-meter (14,020-foot) peak located some 700 kilometers (435 miles) southwest of Bogota was on orange alert since Thursday, and on Saturday the category was raised to red alert, signifying imminent eruption or eruption in progress, after the phenomenon registered at 3:55 p.m. local time (2055 GMT) Friday.
The Colombian Geology and Mining Institute, or Ingeominas, said that “an eruption of an explosive nature was registered” and immediately Nariño Gov. Antonio Navarro Wolff requested inhabitants of the areas at risk to evacuate their homes and go to the emergency shelters set up in three municipalities of the region.
Emergency services officials recommended “people living in the high-threat area of the Galeras volcano to obey the evacuation order issued by the mayors of Pasto, Nariño and La Florida” and “to pay attention to official communiques” on how the situation is evolving.
However, up to now only 76 of the almost 8,000 people at risk have obeyed the evacuation order, regional government officials said Saturday.
The spokesperson of the CRPAD emergency services in Nariño, Marcela Gonzalez, told Efe that those who left their homes were residents of the rural area of Pasto, the provincial capital.
These 76 people sought refuge in the shelters at El Vergel and Potreros, some of the nine installations set up to receive inhabitants of the volcano area.
“The evacuation order remains in place, but the people are very stubborn,” the CRPAD spokeswoman said.
Galeras, which has been active since 1988, has had ten eruptions since then, the most tragic in 1993 when nine people died. The last time it erupted was on Feb. 14 this year.
Some 8,000 people live around the volcano in the rural area of Pasto and the towns of Sandona, Nariño, Yacuanquer, Consaca and Genoy.
The fact that Pasto is at the foot of the mountain and the smoking crater can be seen from there was the reason a world volcanology conference was held there in 1993.
On Jan. 15 of that year, nine scientists observing the crater’s behavior were devoured by an eruption.
Now when emergency service officials asked locals to evacuate, most refused to leave, saying they were afraid their goods or animals would be stolen.
They also said that for many years there have been alerts and nothing serious ever happened, and furthermore they have grown used to living with showers of ash and the occasional sulphurous odors.
The acting mayor of Pasto, Jose Luis Guerra announced that to help people maintain their activities, school classes will be given in the shelters and transport will be provided for kids to get there.
The authorities also restricted nighttime traffic on the highway around Galeras.
Galeras is one of Colombia’s 15 active volcanoes. All belong to the so-called “Pacific Ring of Fire,” where most of the world’s active volcanoes are located, some 452 in all.
This chain of volcanoes that in Colombia runs from the central to southwestern parts of the country also includes the Nevado del Ruiz, which erupted on Nov. 13, 1985, melting the snow-covered peak, pouring down ice, rocks and mud that caused the Tolima and Caldas rivers to overflow and burying the town of Armero in Tolima province, causing more than 23,000 deaths.