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Volcanic eruptions in Ecuador and Guatemala

Monday 31 May 2010 1:35 p.m.

Authorities reported decreasing activity in two Latin American volcanoes on Sunday, after a few days of intense eruptions led to the evacuation of thousands of people and flight disruptions in the region.

Guatemala's Payacan volcano started spewing lava and rocks on Thursday afternoon, covering the capital with ash.

Two-thousand residents of areas near the volcano had been evacuated and remained in shelters on Sunday, according to authorities.

Meanwhile the concentration of ash and sand, coupled with strong rains brought about by tropical storm Agatha, caused the destruction of some 800 homes throughout the region.

A TV reporter was killed on Thursday by a shower of burning rocks.

Despite the easing of volcanic activities, authorities are still advising against flying in the region near the volcano due to ash accumulation.

"This column (of ash) is between 20 and 30 kilometres long, toward the northwest. That is why we are recommending that no flyovers are carried out given that there is still ash, which is dangerous for aircraft," said Eddy Sanchez, Director of Guatemala's Seismology, Volcanology and Meteorology Institute.

The most active of Guatemala's 32 volcanoes, Pacaya has been intermittently erupting since 1966, and tourists frequently visit areas near three lava flows formed in eruptions between 1989 and 1991.

In 1998, the 2,552-metre volcano twice spewed plumes of ash, forcing evacuations and shutting down the airport in Guatemala City.

Guatemala City's international airport is expected to remain closed for the next few days as the clean up operations continue.

On Sunday, airplanes on the runway were covered with a layer of ash.

Meanwhile, eruptions are also easing at Ecuador's Tungurahua volcano a day after major blasts of rock and ash triggered evacuations and flight suspensions.

Mario Ruiz of the National Geophysics Institute said Tungurahua is no longer spewing material far beyond its crater.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa praised the efficiency of evacuations.

About 2,500 people - and 2,600 cattle - have been moved to safety.

Local Emergency Committee President Francisco Mora said on Saturday that roads in the area have been reopened even as officials remain prepared for a massive evacuation in the event of strong eruptions.

Tungurahua is located 150km southeast of Quito.

Eruptions in 2006 buried entire villages and killed at least four people.

APTN

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