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The Daily Volcano Quote: San Salvador, 1917 28 September 2010

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The inhabited regions about the base of the volcano suffered partial destruction [in the earthquake that heralded the beginning of the eruption], the capital, San Salvador, being particularly unfortunate. Ninety per cent. of the homes were destroyed or rendered unfit for habitation … The outflow of the volcanic eruption, while abundant, caused comparatively little damage, since it was largely confined to uninhabited regions. Eight vents opened on the west side of the mountain, sweeping the slope with a stream of lava. A number of coffee plantations on the flanks of the stream were destroyed and, for a distance of two kilometres near Acajutla, the railroad was covered with lava to a depth of 30 feet. For the most part, the region affected is identical with that covered by the last great eruption occurring in 1674. It is said that in some places the old flow has been lifted bodily upon the new.

The San Salvador earthquake’, The Scientific Monthly, vol. 5, no. 2 (August 1917), pp. 191-2.

The Daily Volcano Quote: from Monday to Friday, a new eruption of volcanic verbiage each day.

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San Salvador: living under the volcano 28 September 2010

Posted by admin in El Salvador, natural hazards, San Salvador, volcano monitoring, volcanology.
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Dominating the landscape to the west of El Salvador’s capital of San Salvador is the massive volcano that shares the city’s name. San Salvador volcano last erupted in 1917, the beginning of the eruption being marked by an earthquake estimated to have been magnitude 5.6 which left up to 90% of the capital’s housing stock damaged or destroyed according to contemporary reports (see today’s Daily Volcano Quote). The 1917 eruption, the seat of which was El Boquerón, the main summit of San Salvador, lasted from June to November and produced extensive lava flows and ashfall, damaging crops and causing some fatalities in the surrounding region.

Today the city of San Salvador has a population estimated at 2.2 million and its suburbs encroach upon the lower slopes of San Salvador volcano. A fresh eruption of San Salvador on almost any scale would have serious consequences for the city of San Salvador. Even without any eruptive activity, the volcano’s unstable slopes pose a significant landslide hazard for the surrounding areas.

The authorities in El Salvador are very conscious of the hazard San Salvador poses. Yesterday the Salvadorean newspaper El Diario Co Latino reported that the Salvadorean environment ministry, the Ministerio de Medio Ambiente  y Recursos Naturales (MARN) has been working with geologists and non-governmental organizations from across the world to assess the potential threat of San Salvador and plan hazard mitigation and response strategies. Taking into account San Salvador’s 3000-year history of frequent activity, ‘The likelihood that a phenomenon such as that of 1917 will occur within the next 100 years is high, but it is not possible to give an exact time range’, says volcanologist Dolores Ferrés, author of the study Estratigrafía, geología y evolución del volcán de San Salvador: Aplicación en la evaluación de peligros volcánicos y su posible impacto, which was presented to the media at a congress held by MARN on 21 September.

Ferrés’s study is described in a news release from El Salvador’s Servicio Nacional de Estudios Territoriales (SNET) as ‘a breakthrough in the generation of knowledge about volcanic risk in the country and providing vital information to decision-makers in various sectors’. The intention is to carry out a comprehensive hazard assessment programme for San Salvador volcano and the surrounding area. ‘Although the volcano currently shows only very week activity (fumaroles in Cerro La Hoya and very sporadic volcanic-tectonic seismicity) it is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in Central America because of its proximity to large urban areas and its eruptive history’, is the SNET’s current verdict on San Salvador volcano.

News
Presentación Estudio volcán de San Salvador – SNET news release, 21 September 2010
Volcán de San Salvador: un gigante activoDiario Co Latino, 27 September 2010

Information
Global Volcanism Program: San Salvador – summary information for San Salvador (1403-05=)
Volcano Hazards in the San Salvador Region – USGS report, 2001, available at the CVO website

The Volcanism Blog

Fireballs flung to commemorate Salvadorean volcanic eruption 3 September 2009

Posted by admin in El Salvador, San Salvador, volcano culture.
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Bolas de fuego (image by Mario Pleitez, Creative Commons licensed)

In the town of Nejapa in El Salvador, to the north-east of San Salvador volcano, 31 August sees the festival of Bolas de Fuego – balls of fire. Local people paint their faces, take to the streets and joyously fling burning balls of petrol-soaked rags at each other. The BBC reports that the festival commemorates a volcanic eruption that occurred in 1922, but there was no eruption of San Salvador that year. The festival seems to have started in 1922, and perhaps marks the eruption of 1917; or it might be the 1658 eruption, which forced the evacuation of the town, that is being recalled. Local religious tradition has it that the event celebrates the refusal of the town’s patron saint San Gerónimo to be distracted from good works by the Devil, in the form of the volcano, throwing fireballs at him. Anyway, it all looks like good dangerous fun. Everybody has a good time and no-one has, as yet, been seriously hurt.

[Image of the Bolas de Fuego festival 2008 by Mario Pleitez at Flickr, reproduced here under a Creative Commons license.]

News
Nejapa ardió entre las bolas de fuego – elsalvador.com, 31 August 2009
Una batalla de luces enciende el cielo nejapenseDiario CoLatino, 1 September 2009
Fireballs hurled in El Salvador – BBC News, 2 September 2009 (with video)

The Volcanism Blog

Landslide mitigation works get under way at San Salvador 10 June 2009

Posted by admin in El Salvador, natural hazards, San Salvador.
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A little while ago we ran a report here at The Volcanism Blog on San Salvador volcano in El Salvador, which overlooks the country’s capital city (also called San Salvador). This massive compound volcano, which last erupted in 1917, presents – in addition to its violent eruptive character – a serious non-eruptive volcanic hazard in the form of lethal and destructive landslides generated by collapses of its unstable flanks. The populations of communities around the volcano have been campaigning to get mitigation measures put in place to protect them from this threat.

The appearance of a new large crack in the flank of the volcano that faces the capital has apparently helped to concentrate minds on the potential dangers. Last week the Salvadorean ministers of the interior and of public works visited the area to discuss what measures the government may take to deal with the problem. The mitigation techniques being considered include the planting of ‘living barriers’ of foliage on affected slopes and the construction of dykes and drainage channels. The main element is planned to be an 800-metre long and 10-metre wide drainage channel capable of carrying the large volumes of water runoff produced during the rainy season, which runs from May/June to November. A total of $10 million (or possibly $6 million, initially) is being sought from the government’s Special Investments Fund to begin work on the project.

The Ministry of Public Works (MOP) is now beginning a geological, geotechnical and hydrological survey of the area, which is expected to take four weeks. The MOP says that the work itself will probably be carried out this winter, once the imminent rainy season for this year is over.

News
MOP realizará obras de mitigación por grieta en volcán de San SalvadorLa Prensa Grafica, 5 June 2009
Gobernación pedirá $10 Mlls. para obras en volcánEl Diario del Hoy, 5 June 2009
MOP inicia procesos para obras de mitigación en volcán de San SalvadorDiario Co Latino, 8 June 2009
Obras de mitigación en volcán de San Salvador costarán unos $6 millonesLa Prensa Grafica, 8 June 2009
MOP inicia trabajos preventivos en volcánDiario El Mundo, 8 June 2009

Information
Global Volcanism Program: San Salvador – summary information for San Salvador (1403-05=)
Volcano Hazards in the San Salvador Region – USGS report, 2001, available at the CVO website
Volcano Landslides and their Effects – USGS Volcano Hazards Program

The Volcanism Blog

San Salvador: the dangers of volcanic landslides 17 April 2009

Posted by admin in El Salvador, natural hazards, San Salvador.
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San Salvador volcano (photo by Rick Wunderman, 1999, Smithsonian Institution).
San Salvador volcano, El Salvador, with the city of San Salvador in the foreground. Picture by Rick Wunderman, 1999 (Smithsonian Institution). [source]

When we think of the hazards presented by volcanoes, eruptions naturally come to mind: but volcanoes don’t have to erupt to be lethal. San Salvador volcano (or Quetzaltepec) in El Salvador, a complex compound volcano with a summit elevation of 1893 metres has a long history of violent eruptions, but has not erupted since 1917. The capital city of El Salvador, also called San Salvador, stands at the foot of the volcano, and as it has grown it has encroached increasingly upon the volcano’s slopes. As a result, any eruption of San Salvador volcano would have very serious consequences. Even without eruptions, however, the instability of the volcano’s slopes presents the city with another serious hazard: landslides.

The Salvadorean newspaper Diario Co Latino reports this week that community leaders from around San Salvador are calling on the government to recognize the hazard posed by volcanic landslides and declare a state of emergency for the area north-east of the volcano, between San Salvador and San Vicente volcanoes. They recall that a 1934 landslide from the latter volcano killed an unknown number of people in the village of Tepetitan, and that in 1982 heavy rainfall triggered a landslide on the flanks of San Salvador’s El Pichaco peak (on the right in the picture above) which descended more than 4 kilometres from its source and swept into the north-western part of the city, destroying homes and killing 300-500 people. There have been further potentially dangerous landslides in January 2001 and October 2008, when a large landslide took place which could have caused a similar disaster to that of 1982, if the debris flow had not taken a different course during its descent.

With this hazardous history in mind, along with other even deadlier examples of volcanic landslides such as Casita (October 1998, more than 2000 people killed), the concern expressed by the San Salvador community leaders is understandable. They are petitioning the national government for a thorough scientific survey of landslide-prone areas, improved monitoring and mitigation works, and the relocation of communities particularly at risk from landslides.

News
Piden declarar ‘Estado de Emergencia’ en volcán de San SalvadorDiario Co Latino, 15 April 2009

Information
Global Volcanism Program: San Salvador – summary information for San Salvador (1403-05=)
Global Volcanism Program: San Vicente – summary information for San Vicente (1403-07=)
Volcano Hazards in the San Salvador Region – USGS report, 2001, available at the CVO website
Volcano Landslides and their Effects – USGS Volcano Hazards Program

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