Eruptions

i-8cc5b4f9e209b8e3862a05ab27fa3c4f-Tungurahua.jpg
Tungurahua erupting in an undated AP photo (although I think it is the current 2010 activity.)

It hasn’t really made it to much of the English-speaking news, but the current eruptive activity at Tungurahua appears to be on the up-tick. Hugo Yepes of the Geophysical Institute of Ecuador suggests that a larger eruption is not out of the question (link in spanish), but right now the activity is confined to explosions (vulcanian?) and ash fall around the region, specifically on Pillates and Choglontus overnight (2/1) from the ~ 2 km / 5 000 foot plume. Looking at the specifics (link in spanish), the Geophysical Institute is reporting 32 explosions, 30 long-period seismic events and 20 episodes of volcanic tremor in the last 24 hours. Government officials have issued a number of warnings for people living near the volcano and began preparation for evacuations. You can listen to Hugo Yepes report here (in spanish).

One of the few articles in English media regarding Tungurahua was a report about the difficultly of getting people to evacuate in these situations. We’ve heard this before, where people don’t want to leave their home/farm because thieves will steal their meager possessions and livestock. Now, that might seem crazy to you and me, to be (as one of the commenters on the article says) more worried about possessions than life, but many of the residents of this area in Ecuador live a very scant existence, so losing their livelihood (such as their animals) is tantamount to, well, death.

{soapbox}This is where the rose-colored glasses of Americans and Europeans is most maddening – these people literally have nothing if they lose their home or livestock. It is not like they have insurance on their home, or well-off parents to support them if they fail or even a rich government to kick in disaster relief money. So, sometimes you have to roll the dice and think that the likelihood of getting killed by the volcano is smaller than getting robbed if you evacuate – and in all honestly, most of the time the former is less likely than the latter. The problem lies in the few times that you’re not right – and that is the part that volcanologists try so hard to predict. It is not like they enjoy calling evacuations when they are not needed, but right now our ability to pick out the exact last moment before you should evacuate is not too sharp – it is close to trying to do surgery with a sword instead of a scalpel. Sure, it might get the job done, but the collateral damage … The long and short here is that there is much of the world where the decision-making process you might have when you evacuate your nuclear family from your beach home in Wilmington NC for a hurricane – when you can pack your car with possessions and lock the doors and set the alarm for your possessions (but not your livelihood, because you don’t live off the land of your home or have livestock most likely) is very different than someone evacuating on foot with what they can carry (most likely not much) with their children and extended family. {/soapbox}.

Comments

  1. #1 Diane
    February 2, 2010

    (another soap box)I think about how difficult it is for us to evacuate when something is threatening. Just look what happened during Katrina. Nobody wants to leave home and goods behind, even when there are protections involved. Another senerio that came to mind was Mt. St. Helens and Harry Truman who lived on the mountain. He was told to evacuate and he refused. Well, he was 83 and had lived there a long time and no way was he going to leave. He died with the mountain he loved. But what would he have done if he had evacuated? He would have lost everything and he was not in a postion to start over. If he had been 23, evacuating would have probably made sense to him.

    It is always hard to leave our belongings behind, even for those who have huge homes and millions of dollars. Nobody wants to loose their stuff. The people who have very little would not have a chance to start over unless someone came in to help. Just look at Haiti. Theirs was a quake. In Ecuador, it is most likely a volcano, though it can be a quake, or a hurricane like Mitch.

    It just goes to show how fragil we all are and how capricious life can be. On the bright side, we can enjoy what is around us—the beauty of the mountains, the lakes, the flowers, the forests, etc. One of my friends has commented on how beautiful a lava flow is and yet how deadly. So we can enjoy the beauty of it at a safe distance, also the awesome power and get the blip out of there if that is what we decide to do, or have to do. I remember the Krafts and how the work they did gave us a lot of info on the workings of volcanoes. They risked their lives doing what they loved and we can be greatful to them for the knowledge they left us. And that goes for all volcanologists who are risking their lives in the field studying, learning, and relaying what they have learned.

  2. #2 BarbB
    February 2, 2010

    Thank you for the update. That AP picture looks similar to but a tad less spectacular than the one APOD featured on September 18, 2007:
    http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap070918.html Perhaps that’s when it was taken?

    Also, I found the IGEPN helicorders, and the first four are for Tungurahua–very interesting:
    http://correo.igepn.edu.ec/heli/heli/welcome.html

  3. #3 Pele
    February 2, 2010

    “This is where the rose-colored glasses of Americans and Europeans is most maddening – these people literally have nothing if they lose their home or livestock.”

    I actually find it a relief to know there are other volcanologists out there who understand this point of view. I read a fascinating journal article on the beliefs of locals living in Mt Merapi’s shadow. The focus of the paper stressed the differences between how the authorities saw volcanic hazards and the locals who lived in hazardous areas. The main reason the villagers refused to evacuate to safer areas or even returned to their homes days after relocating was that they perceived losing their livelihoods as a fate as bad as death itself.
    I commend you on bringing this point out in your blog.

  4. #4 Boris Behncke
    February 2, 2010

    We volcanologists here in Italy know pretty well what this is about … in case of an imminent eruption at Vesuvius, the largest civil evacuation in history (except maybe for hurricanes Katrina and Rita) would have to be carried out, involving over half a million people. We are pretty aware that not many of them will be willing to leave easily, also because everybody would like to take at least the most essential items with them, like the TV and the DVD player, the computer, the cell phones, the brand-new deLuxe refrigerator, at least one of the three cars of the household, all the toys of the children, and so on. At Etna, where there is less risk of a highly explosive eruption, an eruption on the very densely populated southeast flank would threaten the homes and property of hundreds of thousands, and the same problem would arise. We in the so-called developed countries are so vulnerable it’s difficult to imagine. Plus, in the case of a volcanic crisis, you never know how long it will last – Tungurahua is going on since more than 10 years, and Montserrat since nearly 15. None of us should wonder why people are often reluctant to leave their homes on short notice – after all, it’s home.

  5. #5 mots
    February 2, 2010

    i agree. Very compassionate point. When there’s no money and no grocery store; the chicken is where You get the egg.
    Picking up and running with Your chicken isn’t going to help. Disrupted hens don’t lay. And poor Italy……. how would they ever get all those people out in time? i saw the miles of traffic from Katrina and that was on a timeline event. Volcanoes sadly have none.
    Best!motsfo

  6. #6 Nicholas Crowder
    February 2, 2010

    I have been following volcanos in Ecuador for some time.

    There are some severe problems with this specific vocano besides the residents that live nearby. The town of Baños located nearby depends heavily on dollars from Ecuadorian and foreign tourists. The local government is always at odds with authorities in that they want warnings to be lifted or changed. Also, in the last major erruption much of the theft from locals was reported as authorities who were evacuating people.

    Most recently the monitoring point of the volcano which copiles the information to provide authorities as to emergency warnings was compromised due to power outages.

    http://ecuadortraveladvisory.com/travel_safety_ecuador_February_1_2010.htm

    http://www.ecuadortraveladvisory.com

  7. #7 Diane
    February 2, 2010

    Attempting to evacuate Naples would be a nightmare. The people in New Orleans had days to get out if they wanted to. We saw what happened when they didn’t. With a volcano, there may be some time and then again it may be like a quake—no warning! I really feel for people who live in areas like Naples and near Merapi. I hope they will not have to face an eruption, but we all know it is a matter of time. Just like it will only be a matter of time before my town will face a fire even though the fire fighters are very good at getting here fast. We can do something to prepare for it, but those people who have nearly nothing, there is no way for them to prepare. Where are they going to go? So they stay and hope for the best and I don’t blame them one bit. It is so easy for us to think they should leave, but why should they? I think they have a fatalistic view of the volcanoes they live by. Some even have a love for the mountains. And when they are not erupting, some of them are beautiful.

    So we live as best we can and try not to worry all the time about what can or cannot happen. Be sensible and aware. Apart from that, there is little we can do except watch and wait.

  8. #8 mike don
    February 3, 2010

    Diane: Funny you should mention the Kraffts, because I’ve had the thought for some time that a ‘biopic’ of their life and work ought to be made -it might give the public a better idea of volcanoes and volcanologists than the usual sort of media hyperbole. As well as being a fitting tribute.

  9. #9 Diane
    February 4, 2010

    @MIke Don: I agree. The Krafts should be remembered and their contributions should be also. They went to an average of 12 eruptions a year and did a lot of documentation and work on how volcanoes worked. It was a real loss to the volcanologists’ world when they died. I thank all volcanologists who work close because they do risk their lives.

  10. #10 t o'hara
    February 5, 2010

    Dear Sir’s There is no sutch thing as a volcaino,If you cut It it off at the base you have a vent to the center of the Earth.Knowing when magma wants to come out,why it has to come out,and when it is most likely to come out you will then be begining to understand this Earth.Earth has been doing Its thing for millions of years all you have to do is think outside the box,then you might be on the way to understanding this Earth.

  11. #11 Jan
    February 7, 2010

    I am in Banos as I read this.. so thanks for the report… Tungurahua is still active.. heard smaller explosions last night and a quite large boom this morning. Everyone just goes about their business. Have to agree many poor people in the area have nothing to lose…

  12. #12 Karl P
    February 13, 2010

    I live in Banos, a tourist town on the slopes of Volcan Tungurahua. I want to add to the comments about evacuations. Following an evacuation of the town of Banos that was called by the government back in 1999 and enforced by the Ecuadorian Army, the people of the town (after being kept out for about three months) ended up organizing an army of their own to re-take their homes and businesses from the goverment troops who were keeping them out. It has been speculated by townsfolk ever since that the mayor of Banos at the time was exaggerating the level of alert and applying for (for the purposes of misappropriation) UN disaster releif money which is allocated when evacuations are in force. Following the unauthorised return of the population, the government disowned the action saying “the people of Banos are now on their own” It is said that the population found, upon their return that the Army had looted, stolen and sold off basically all that had been left behind. Shops were emptied and all manner of things disappeared; from people’s personal property to their livestock. Banos residents faced destitution and many have never recovered financially from this event. It should be remembered that, even though there was violent activity before the evacuation no cataclysmic event occured and no injuries were sustained. People don’t forget this kind of treatment easily and when we live near a volcano that erupts this way about three times a year, it will be very difficult for the authorities to evacuate Banos again. Personally I shall wait until I feel in immediate danger of being killed by Tungurahua before I go anywhere many people I know are of the same mind. My emergency bag is packed and ready and I am prepared to run but only when I decide its time to go.

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    March 4, 2010

    idk why but this scare me and my kids!

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