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Galeras eruption update 15 February 2009

Posted by admin in activity reports, Colombia, eruptions, Galeras, natural hazards.
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Yesterday’s eruption at Galeras volcano in Colombia appears on basis of the information available so far to have been a relatively minor event, producing moderate ashfall in the city of Pasto and nearby areas. The activity appears to have subsided for the moment and there have been no reports of further explosions or of lava being erupted. The Pasto volcanological observatory have issued no new bulletins so far today.

In the Colombian media it is being reported that the local emergency plan was triggered by the eruption, as part of which an evacuation of 7000-8000 people was ordered, but little actual evacuation took place. ‘The sudden eruption of Galeras volcano’, reports El País, ‘obliged the Government to order the evacuation of the municipalities of La Florida, Mapachico, Genoy and Nariño’, affecting more than 3000 people, and that ‘other Government sources’ suggested that ‘the number of evacuees could climb to 8000’. The Colombian Interior Ministry has been telling people to go to emergency shelters, co-operate with the local Red Cross, etc., to little effect.

It is notable that local political leaders in the towns of Pasto and Nariño have been advising people to remain in their homes but be ready to leave, rather than ordering immediate evacuation. The mayor of Pasto, Eduardo Alvarado, is quoted in El País as saying that no-one in the town needs to evacuate, and the governor of Nariño province, Antonio Navarro Wolf, has called for calm and advised people to stay put, but to ‘have their shoes ready and prepare for any eventuality’. An AFP report in Ecuador’s El Universo newspaper says that the evacuation order was widely disregarded in the rural areas as well as in the municipalities: ‘the order to evacuate the slopes of the volcano, where around 8000 people have their homes, was only partially completed’.

A report in El Tiempo says that no eruption cloud was visible from Pasto, but that car windshields and road surfaces were covered in ash. Local water supplies have not been contaminated by ash from the eruption, but people are being advised not to flush ash directly into the sewers while cleaning up their properties. Various road closures have been imposed around the volcano, and local authorities are asking that people only take to their vehicles if their journeys are essential. This report also notes that local people have been asked to evacuate ‘more than four times in the last year’. The impression that evacuation fatigue may be setting in among Galeras’s neighbours is confirmed in a later El Tiempo report:

Only seven people arrived at Potreros shelter in the city of Pasto, capital of [the province of] Nariño, said the Oficina de Atención y Prevención de Desastres.

According to the director of that organization, Luz Amanda Pulido, ‘… what happens is that people get a fright from Galeras, but think afterwards that nothing else will happen. The same thing happened in the eruption of a year ago’, and that is why people at risk do not go to the shelters.

[Pulido] noted that the mayors of towns such as Genoy, Parachico, La Florida and Nariño, the closest to the volcano, gave the order for evacuation, but the locals did not comply with it.

Caracol Radio‘s reporter toured evacuation shelters in three areas and found that not a single person from the areas of Pasto they were supposed to serve had sought refuge there: ‘In these shelters with a capacity of more than 4000 people there are only relief workers and police’. Local people explained that they were unwilling to leave their property unguarded and their animals uncared for. They are used to living with the volcano, and will only leave if the situation is clearly much more serious than it currently appears to be.

In a situation in which a volcano is very active but rarely does any serious damage to life, limb or property, it becomes increasingly hard to convince local inhabitants to evacuate every time that volcano clears its throat. The most thorough and sophisticated emergency plans in the world count for nothing if you can’t convince people to take their danger seriously.

For all our Galeras coverage: Galeras « The Volcanism Blog.

Ordenan evacuar pueblos por erupción del GalerasEl País, 15 February 2009
Volcán Galeras mantiene en alerta zona sur de ColombiaEl Universo, 15 February 2009
No hay contaminación de fuentes hídricas en Pasto (Nariño), señala comité local de emergenciasEl Tiempo, 15 February 2009
Zona del sur de Colombia en alerta tras erupción del volcán Galeras – AFP, 15 February 2009
Pobladores de alrededor de volcán Galeras no abandonan casas, pese a nivel de máxima alertaEl Tiempo, 15 February 2009
Se mantiene la alerta máxima en el Volcán Galeras – Caracol Radio, 15 February 2009

Smithsonian Institution Global Volcanism Program – summary information for Galeras (1501-08=)
Portal Corporativo de INGEOMINAS – Instituto Colombiano de Geología y Minería
Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico de Pasto – Pasto volcanological observatory main page

The Volcanism Blog