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Evacuation plans at Nevado del Huila 20 January 2009

Posted by admin in Colombia, eruptions, natural hazards, Nevado del Huila, volcano monitoring.
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The Colombian volcano Nevado del Huila has had a restless few years of late, erupting in the spring of 2007 and again, in deadly fashion, in November 2008. The headline put out today by the English language service of the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina gives the impression of a further sudden outburst of dramatic activity at the volcano: ‘Thousands flee Colombian volcano’. In fact there has been no change in the volcano’s behaviour, and its alert level is high but unchanged at orange (the second highest alert level – ‘eruption probable wthin days or weeks’).

The subject of the report is not an evacuation in the face of immediate danger. It is, rather, a plan for a preventive evacuation. The Colombian government has announced that it will be moving the entire population of the town of Belalcázar, 4000 people in all, to a site less at risk from the volcano’s activity. El País reports:

The National Government will be implementing a prevention plan for the urban district of Paez Belalcázar, in the department of Cauca, which will consist of the removal of all inhabitants of the area before a possible eruption of the Nevado del Huila Volcano.

‘The conditions for a possible further eruption that Ingeominas has detected are delicately balanced, so it is necessary that the Government takes this decision for the benefit of those in the area. It is a complicated, difficult transfer, which will take a long time’, [Justice Minister] Valencia Cossio announced.

Belalcázar, the capital of Páez municipality. is the town that suffered most in the November 2008 eruption, with extensive damage to local communications and services.

It is not clear whether the resettlement is intended to be temporary or permanent. As a risk mitigation procedure the removal of an entire urban population from the vicinity of an active volcano is logical, but very complicated, disruptive and expensive. Whether in this case it is a better option than having effective monitoring, warning and evacuation procedures remains to be seen.

UPDATE, 21 January 2009: The government proposal to relocate the people of Belalcázar has, unsurprisingly, divided local opinion, reports El País today. ‘The people are deeply rooted in the land’, warns the alcalde, James Yaznó:

We hope the studies will find a very suitable site and that the conditions will be right for such a relocation. They will have to look very carefully, because the town has large infrastructures, such as the hospital, which cost a lot of money.

Other local inhabitants (doubtless afraid of the government dumping them on some empty hillside somewhere) stress the importance of fertile agricultural land and good roads and other utilities at the new site, and ask that the relocation be carried out ‘with dignity’; they make the point that it would be wrong to relocate the town but leave surrounding villages at risk; and warn that transferring Belalcázar to a new site ‘would disrupt the rhythms of life and work’.

For all our Nevado del Huila coverage: Nevado del Huila « The Volcanism Blog.

Thousands flee Colombian volcano – Prensa Latina, 20 January 2009
Gobierno ordenó reubicar a los habitantes de Belalcázar por amenaza del volcánEl País, 20 January 2009
Reubicación divide a BelálcazarEl País, 21 January 2009

Global Volcanism Program: Nevado del Huila – summary information for Nevado del Huila (1501-05=)
Portal Corporativo de INGEOMINAS – main page for the Instituto Colombiano de Geología y Minería
INGEOMINAS Popayán – main page for the Observatorio Popayán, which monitors Nevado del Huila

The Volcanism Blog