Townsfolk defy 'Mother Fire Throat'

Mount Tungurahua in Ecuador could erupt at any moment, spewing red hot lava down its slopes and hurling volcanic rocks on to the small town of Baños below. But, far from fearing for their lives, the town's inhabitants are angry about what they see as a media hype that is seriously damaging their livelihoods.

Tungurahua is a grumpy old soul. Lying about 100 miles south-east of Quito, the volcano normally blows smoke and ash into the sky several times an hour. Every now and then, a rumbling sound can be heard and the ground shakes a little. It sounds as if Mother Fire Throat, as the Incas called the volcano, is flexing her vocal cords.

That routine of shakes and burps has increased significantly this month. So much so that according to Ecuador's Geophysical Institute, the seismic activity is comparable to that during the days leading up to one of the last big eruptions, on 14 July 2006. On that occasion, molten lava ran down the slopes where farmers grow fruit and a thick layer of ash covered the countryside to the west of the mountain, including the two major towns of Riobamba and Ambato, and even reaching the coast.

This time, the government has started to remove the 251 families who live on the western side of Tungurahua, close to the volcano's crater. Livestock is also being moved from the mountain.

On Thursday, the people of Baños received a message from their grumbling neighbour – the whole town was covered in a thin layer of ash. National television channels broadcast live coverage of the volcano as it breathed fire and spat burning rocks during the night.

But despite the increased activity, nobody in Baños seems too worried. In fact, they are much more concerned about the impact the news has had on tourism.

Famed for its hot water springs and adventure sports, the town of just under 20,000 is usually crowded with backpackers and local visitors. Now many are staying away as a result of the warnings.

"The scientists insist on what they call precautionary statements," says Geovanni Romo, the owner of a rafting and trekking company and head of an amateur study group called Ojos del Volcán (Eyes of the Volcano). "But as a result of those so-called precautions, it will cost us between four and six months to reactivate the tourism industry here."

He claims the press are crying wolf. "According to our own monitoring, the number of daily smoke bursts is only 300, where as before the 2006 eruption the number was up to 900. The newspapers exaggerate everything just to sell more copies," Mr Romo said. In an effort to make the best of things, Ojos del Volcán and other agencies are promoting tours to watch Tungurahua belch fire at night.

The biggest eruption in recent history was in 1999, when the town and the surrounding area were evacuated for months. Looting followed, something which many townspeople blame on the soldiers who were left to guard their possessions. As a result, they have taken matters into their own hands.

"This time around we are in full control," insists a weary Marcelo Espinel. He co-ordinates the town's emergency operations centre and is confident that in the case of an eruption, the townspeople will voluntarily move to "safe areas".

While speaking, Mr Espinel receives a phone call. Apparently the great Mother Fire Throat has stepped up her rumbles once again. What now? "Nothing," he says, "We'll just wait and see what happens next."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz