For the second year in a row, Mother Nature set an ominous precedent by ringing in the New Year with a jolt.
Last year’s surprise was the Jan. 8, 2009, Cinchona earthquake (see story below). And 2010 kicked off with volcanic tremors Tuesday inside Costa Rica’s 3,340-meterhigh Turrialba Volcano, about 40 kilometers northeast of San José, triggering an ash eruption the likes of which have not been seen in more than 140 years.
Disaster response teams had evacuated a total of 36 people by press time on Thursday. Twenty-four of them took refuge early in the week in a community center in Santa Cruz, approximately seven kilometers from the volcano’s crater, while others stayed with their families in nearby towns, according to National Emergency Commission (CNE). Some of the evacuees had begun to return to
their homes on Thursday.
There were no reports of illness or injury due to the volcano, Ministry of Health authorities said.
On the afternoon of the eruption, the wind blew southwestward, causing most of the ash to settle within 12 km of the crater, although some ash flew as far as the east side of San José, said Raúl Mora, geologist and volcanologist with the National Seismological Network (RSN). He’s been visiting the mountain to monitor its activity with fellow scientists from the network, which is run by the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) and theUniversityofCosta Rica.
The authorities identified a six-km radius around the crater that they say should be evacuated.
In the tiny village of La Central, where dairy and potato farmers have braved life on the slope of the volcano during the last few years of increasing volcanic gases, the air grew thicker this week and reeked of sulfur, while the ground turned gray with a muddy mixture of rain, earth and ash. The farmers have left.
“Last night (Wednesday) when we entered the affected area getting people out of their homes, it still smelled a lot,” said the Red Cross’ chief of rescue operations, Carlos Gutiérrez.
But only 20 km south and east of the volcano, residents and businesses say they hardly noticed a thing.
“In Cervantes, this whole area, including downtown Turrialba, hasn’t been affected at ll,” said José Mena, owner of Restaurante Bocadito del Cielo.
The Turrialba Volcano remained active for several days but the volcanic tremors and ash showed signs of subsiding by Thursday.
After an analysis of the ash and volcanic activity, Mora said the mountain might continue its unusual activity, but he said lava flow is unlikely.
“In order for there to be magma close to the surface there must be deformations in the walls (of the volcano), changes in the chemistry of the gases, many tremors that force the magma upward and, at this time, the tremors are of another sort – not (caused by) rising magma,” said the RSN volcano expert.
Mora added that the ash particles were, at most, two millimeters in diameter, so the volcano had not shown signs of launching rocks, as some media reports had implied. By Thursday, CNE said the volcano’s activity had begun to die down but ash clouds continued to shoot up 100 meters from the crater.
After examining local water sources, the Costa Rican Water and Sewer Institute (AyA) said drinking water was in the clear, allaying fears that volcanic material could contaminate Turrialba’s water supply.
“The water for human consumption coming from rural aqueducts poses no threat to the population,” Ricardo Sancho, AyA executive president, said in a statement. “The pH found in the ash doesn’t represent contamination for the water sources.”
The institute contacted 24 local Administrative Associations of Rural Aqueducts (ASADAS), which serve a total of 42,000 people. Each of them reported clean drinking water.
Agricultural officials were to tour the region early today to continue taking stock of any damage to farms near the volcano.
Many residents who live closest to the crater count on dairy farming for their livelihood, and many were concerned about the animals’ wellbeing. A total of 143 farms are located in the affected area and are home to 4,415 animals, according to the Agriculture and Livestock Ministry (MAG). The volcano’s ash threatens 800 of the animals, MAG said.
Gutiérrez, the Red Cross chief, said three trucks carried 30 cows each away from the affected area and to safety. He added that at least nine families refused to be evacuated, reluctant to leave their land.
Mike McDonald andRonald Reyescontributed to this article.
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by the Numbers
36 People evacuated as of Thursday morning
24 kilometers – distance from volcano to downtown Turrialba (nearest urban center)
2 millimeters – largest ash praticle reported during current eruption 1864-1866 – last consistent eruption of particle and ash at Turrialba Volcano 40 km – distance from Volcano to San José.
Sources: National Seismological Network (RSN) and National Emergency Commission (CNE)