The eruption of a volcano in Ecuador’s Amazon region left several cities covered in ash on Tuesday, fueling concerns of a potential health impact as the South American nation slowly emerges from a brutal coronavirus outbreak.
The Sangay volcano has had moderate eruptions for over a year that have had little impact because of its remote location, but a recent change in wind patterns has pushed ash toward the coast and affected areas including the largest city, Guayaquil.
“The ash comes out of the Sangay volcano and spreads into the Guayas province, and we see a quantity of ash that is arriving near Guayaquil,” Benjamin Bernard of the Geophysical Institute of Ecuador told reporters, referring to the province where Guayaquil is located.
The institute said it expects minor volcanic eruptions to continue in the coming days but does not expect a major eruption.
The Guayaquil airport halted flights to clean the runway, and authorities began clearing ash from public spaces to avert potential respiratory problems. Roads were closed to traffic in some parts of the provinces of Los Rios and Chimborazo.
“Now we have to wear the mask not only because of the coronavirus but also because of the ash that covers all of Guayaquil,” said homemaker Karen Figueroa, 30, who was removing ash from the patio of her Guayaquil home.
Guayaquil in March and April suffered one of the region’s worst coronavirus outbreaks, which overwhelmed the health system and forced authorities to collect corpses in homes.
The health ministry this month said the spread of the disease had slowed significantly and that deaths have dropped below 10 per day from a peak of 194 per day.
Reporting by Yuri Garcia; writing by Alexandra Valencia and Brian Ellsworth; editing by Jonathan Oatis