Restless Volcano Leads to State of Emergency in Ecuador

Aug 15, 2015 08:27 PM EDT

Ecuador is now officially in a state of emergency with an estimated 400 people already evacuated from a potential disaster zone south of the country's capital. In a Saturday address, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa explained that this is a precautionary action as the massive Cotopaxi volcano grows increasingly restless.

If you've ever been or even thought about visiting Ecuador, you likely know about the Cotopaxi. One of South America's most well known volcanoes, Cotopaxi is infamous for its restless nature. It is one of the most active volcanoes in the western hemisphere, not to mention among the tallest in the world, reaching nearly 4 miles high (5911 m).

That's why the volcano's recent and unprecedented unrest has local and experts alike on edge.

"The situation developing at Cotopaxi is a serious threat that has led the government to take urgent special measures to confront this eruptive process," Public Safety chief Cesar Navas told media in a recent briefing.

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"We declare a state of emergency due to the unusual activity of Mount Cotopaxi," President Correa added during his Saturday address. "God willing, everything will go well and the volcano will not erupt." (Scroll to read on...)

However, it's not unlikely that the president's prayers will go unanswered. Experts know that Cotopaxi has erupted more than 50 times in recorded history, with the majority of its danger not posed by lava flow, but heavy ash fall. In 1880, for instance British explorer Edward Whymper witnessed Cotopaxi soot blanket the sky, changing the hue of the heavens themselves for several hours.

"We saw a green sun, and such a green as we have never, either before or since, seen in the heavens," he later wrote. "Had we not known that these effectes were due to the passage of the ash we might well have been filled with dread instead of amazement; for no words can convey the faintest idea of the impressive appearance of these strange colors in the sky."

As beautiful as the sight may be, responders are no strangers to the danger this ash may cause. Just last year an ashy eruption on Mount Ontake, Japan trapped hundreds of hikers. A stunning 56 people succumbed to asphyxiation before emergency crews could reach them, making it one of the deadliest eruptions in recent history.

Four-hundred citizens living around the base of Cotopaxi have already been evacuated and surgical masks will be distributed to residents of Ecuador's capital, Quito, located about 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) away.

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