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Volcanic Ash Covers Area Around Eruption

December 1, 1995

LEON, Nicaragua (AP) _ The Cerro Negro volcano spewed hot ash, steam and 50-pound rocks 1,000 feet into the air Thursday, blanketing the area with what looked like black snow and sending people fleeing with the few belongings they could carry.

The likelihood of an explosive, full-scale eruption from the volcano, located 75 miles northwest of the capital of Managua, was not clear. A group of American volcano experts arrived in Nicaragua Thursday to assess the situation.

But ash from the volcano’s continual belching piled up across thousands of acres of fields and forests and on the roofs of peasant huts.

Trees, shrubs, harvest-ready sugar cane, corn and other crops have collapsed under the weight of the ash. People covered their heads with hats or rags; those on horseback resembled desert Bedouins.

``We are facing an ecological disaster. This area will have a hard time recovering from this,″ said federal deputy Omar Cabezas as he toured the stricken area.

Civil Defense workers struggling to evacuate families at the foot of the 2,200-foot volcano were frustrated Thursday because the heavy ash, dampened by rain, downed tree limbs that blocked roads.

About 6,000 people live in the immediate vicinity of the volcano, which is dumping ash and soil over a 30-mile radius that includes Leon, a city of 150,000 people 15 miles away.

The government on Monday began to evacuate people near the volcano, which rumbled to life Nov. 19 after a three-year lull. It declared a state of emergency in the region Wednesday.

``The water has run out,″ said Ernestina Delgado, 70, who took refuge with 75 others Thursday in the town of Lechecuagos. ``The wells are full of sand and we don’t have anything to eat.″

Farmers were worried because their animals were refusing to eat grass covered with the sulfuric-smelling ash.

Jairo Vargas, a young peasant from the village of El Porvenir, said at least three families there wanted to leave but could not because fallen trees and limbs left them trapped.

Vargas reached his brother’s farm and helped him and his family leave in an ox cart piled high with bedding, pots and pans, a dozen chickens and a pig.

His 2-year-old niece, her face blackened from the falling ash, cradled a baby chick.

``People who don’t leave now aren’t going to leave with their things because they will have to go on foot,″ his brother said.

``It has never rained mud and that is what worries me,″ said Victor Bonifacio Delgado, 76, who lives in one of the huts closest to the volcano. ``But I’m not leaving yet.″

He said when the volcano erupted in 1992 he was among the first to leave ``and they stole everything that I had left.″

To get out by ox cart, Delgado would have to chop his way through three miles of fallen trees and branches covering the roads.

President Violeta Chamorro appealed for foreign aid and said the government was sending in food and medicine. She planned to visit the area Saturday.

The Red Cross and other international officials on Thursday began shipping food, medicine and other aid into the country for those already left homeless by the volcano.

Vulcanologists from Miami and Arizona traveled Thursday to Cerro Negro to begin tests to determine if and when a full-scale eruption will occur.

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