Disasters & Accidents

Town closest to Colombia’s Nevado del Ruiz volcano unfazed by eruption risks

By Ernesto Guzman Ruiz

Murillo, Colombia, Apr 7 (EFE).- Inhabitants of this town nearest to Colombia’s Nevado del Ruiz volcano have been going about their business despite the risk of an eruption, even coming out to observe a Good Friday procession that winded its way through the streets.

Local authorities say they are prepared to respond to an eventual emergency situation, but inside Murillo proper there are no signs of any plans to evacuate and just a few farm workers in rural areas closer to the fire mountain have been relocated from their homes.

“We’re keeping close track of changes in the volcano’s activity, of the reports by the Colombian Geological Survey (SGC), as well as by the National Disaster Risk Management Unit and other national, local and departmental authorities, but the community is generally very calm,” the communications director for the Murillo mayor’s office, Constanza Gomez, told Efe.

Gomez, who recalled that many residents of that town of around 5,000 inhabitants in the central-western department of Tolima have vivid memories of the earlier eruption in 1985, said Murillo’s inhabitants know what to do in the event of an emergency and have “very well structured” contingency plans in place.

The Nov. 13, 1985, eruption of the 5,365-meter-tall (17,590-foot-tall) Nevado del Ruiz and the melting of its glaciers triggered the deadliest natural disaster in Colombia’s history, with enormous lahars (volcanically induced landslides) killing more than 23,000 of the 25,000 inhabitants of the nearby town of Armero.

Gomez said Murillo has made preparations for a new eruption, with four points of evacuation having been set up, especially intended for communities at higher elevations.

Likewise, awareness-raising efforts have been conducted so “everyone remembers what they should and shouldn’t do in the case of an eruption,” the communications director said.

Citing information from the SGC, Gomez said that in the event of an eruption Murrillo could be affected by the falling of pyroclastic material, especially due to its location at an elevation of 3,000 meters above sea level.

She also said residents who live near the Vallecitos and Recio rivers may be at risk from a rise in water levels, adding that they are the “priority for evacuation.”

Air pollution also is expected in the event of an eruption, but “other than that we don’t expect a wider impact,” Gomez said.

Referring to preventive evacuation orders by the national government, Gomez said “opinion is very divided.”

“A lot of people understand they can easily recover their crops and their animals in the event of an emergency, but Murillo campesinos also are deeply rooted to their land and customs. So in that context, removing them and telling them, ‘come, we’ll see about it later,’ the economic issue hasn’t been that easy,” she explained.

In that regard, the mayor’s office is working with those who opt to stay in the town despite the risk of an eruption, she said.

One sector hard hit by the volcanic threat is tourism, since people who normally visit Murillo during Holy Week are staying away this year.

A local retailer, Luz Neira Vargas, said in remarks to Efe that the same fire mountain that is typically a tourist draw is now keeping them away.

But despite the increase in the volcano’s seismic activity over the past two weeks and warnings that an eruption bigger than any of the past decade may occur, she said she isn’t going anywhere.

A resident of Murillo for the past seven years, Neira said she trusts the advice of local residents who recommend staying inside one’s house in the event of an eruption. EFE


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