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Sunday, October 17, 1999 Published at 01:09 GMT 02:09 UK

World: Americas

Ecuador volcano forces evacuation

Banos residents prepare to move out

The authorities in Ecuador have begun evacuating thousands of people at risk from a possible eruption of the Tungurahua volcano, some 120 km (74 miles) south of the capital Quito.

Scientists have declared an orange alert for Tungurahua, which means the 5,016-metre (16,266-foot) high volcano could erupt at any time in the next few days.

[ image: Banos, usually full of tourists, is empty]
Banos, usually full of tourists, is empty
Residents of the nearby spa town of Banos and several other villages have been told to leave by 2300 GMT on Sunday at the latest.

Nearly 70% of the town's 30,000 residents have left since a yellow alert was issued a month ago.

President visits

Ecuadoran President Jamil Mahuad was taken on an observation flight around the crater and afterwards went on radio to tell people he was "very concerned" for their safety.

[ image: President Mahuad talks to civil defence volunteers]
President Mahuad talks to civil defence volunteers
Citing geological experts, the president said the "probability of a Tungurahua eruption is 80%".

"Everyone should leave now," he said, singling out residents of Banos, Penipe, Puela and Bilbao.

The authorities have set up more than 100 temporary shelters to house the evacuees.

Volcano season

In the last few weeks, Tungurahua has belched out some 10,000 tonnes of vapour per day, and an enormous black cloud hangs over its crater.

The last time it erupted was in 1916.

Meanwhile, the Guagua Pichincha volcano situated just 10km (six miles) west of Quito, continues to worry authorities after its last eruption on 7 October.

After being dormant for 340 years, the volcano erupted on 5 October, covering Quito and surrounding areas in 5,000 tonnes of ash.

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