San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

El Salvador volcano has first major eruption since 1976

SAN SALVADOR — The Chaparrastique volcano released clouds of ash and gas thousands of meters up into the sky Sunday, leading to the evacuation of 2,200 people from the area about 140 kilometers east of San Salvador.

The eruption began at 10:30 a.m. local time, and the “most intense part” lasted through 1 p.m., according to the Environment Ministry. So far authorities report nobody has been injured. However, the whole country remains under a preventative alert.

“We had an explosive eruption (of ash), which may continue for several days (…) we have been unable to verify lava,” said Environment Ministry official Celina Kattán at a press conference.

One local resident described hearing a loud rumble early in the morning before noticing a frightening puff of black smoke rising out of the volcano.

The airline Avianca cancelled 33 flights departing and arriving at the San Salvador airport due to fears of the ash affecting aircraft.

Environment Minister Herman Rosa Chávez said the columns of ash and gas could reach as far as Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. Salvadoran officials are checking to see if the volcanic ash affected local aquifers. The Health Ministry warned residents about the dangers of coming in contact with the ash or inhaling it.

During the day, police and rescue workers arrived at the area to provide assistance. Dozens of onlookers also traveled there to observe the natural phenomenon.

Chaparrastique is considered El Salvador’s most active volcano. It had its last major eruption in 1976.

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