San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Volcanic Eruption Brings Drama to Arenal

THREE explosions within six minutespropelled a thick plume of ash andvolcanic gas 900 meters into the air aboveArenal Volcano on the afternoon of Nov.2. The blasts triggered a hot pyroclasticflow down the western flank of the peakthat evoked oohs and ahhs from tourists involcano lookouts, but didn’t cause anyreported damage.Strong winds swept the ash cloudsoutheast and fooled some eyewitnessesinto thinking the flow took that course aswell. Eliécer Duarte, volcanologist withthe Universidad Nacional’s Volcanologicaland Seismological Observatory (OVSICORI),inspected the flow the followingday, saying it “looked like a river of drymaterials that made an alley during theavalanche.”Only the small size of the flow stavedoff disaster. Thirty-six hotels, hot springresorts, trails and lookouts are within 5.5kilometers of the volcano’s peak, a dangerzone that could be consumed in lava withinfive minutes of a powerful eruption,according to a report by Robert Tilling,volcanologist with the U.S. GeologicalSurvey (TT, March 12, 2004). He wasinvited in December 2003 to study thepotential for disaster, and his recommendationshave been part of an ongoingcommunity awareness and political actioncampaign by the National EmergencyCommission (CNE).There is only minimal risk to touristswho stay in that area to observe the volcano,OVSICORI’s Duarte said. WhenArenal erupted, “There were people in thelookout who saw the spectacle andenjoyed it.“It doesn’t seem dangerous to me (aslong as) people obey the off-limits zones;in fact, it’s a very educational, creativeexperience that teaches people about thefresh materials that surge from the internallayer of the earth,” he said.The volcano has been active since1968, gurgling up large eruptions an averageof twice a year and constantly dribblinglava flows around its peak that drawdroves of spectators to watch it glow onclear nights. The explosions were the culminationof a period of heightened activityduring the past two months, OVSICORIreported in a statement, though none ofthe previous activity was as dramatic.

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