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Ecuadorians Forced From Volcano

November 3, 1999

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) _ Police fired tear gas Wednesday to force back hundreds of people trying to return to homes in a restricted zone menaced by a volcano that threatens to erupt.

About 300 residents from the tourist town of Banos surged passed a military checkpoint five miles from the Tungurahua volcano, but were turned back a short time later by police who lobbed tear gas.

No arrests or injuries were reported.

Authorities evacuated the town’s 17,000 residents on Oct. 16, along with 8,000 people living in a half dozen nearby villages and scattered hamlets.

The volcano, which looms over the now-deserted town, awoke from a 79-year slumber on Sept. 15, threatening to engulf the popular tourist destination in lava and ash within 10 minutes of eruption.

Banos and other towns have been covered with showers of volcanic ash in the last week. A cycle of small explosions launches incandescent rocks three to five times a day.

The town’s inhabitants said they wanted to return to retrieve personal belongings, and to feed chickens, cows, cats and dogs left behind.

Many of the evacuated people were taken to shelters in Ambato, a bustling Andean city of 300,000 people, 20 miles northeast of the volcano and 70 miles south of the capital, Quito.

Some residents complained they have not been able to earn money since the evacuation, and said they feared for their future.

``Sooner or later we definitely will return because it is preferable to die in Banos at the foot of the volcano than to die of hunger in the shelters,″ said Silverio Teran, after he was turned back by police.

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