Hundreds of local residents reported at hospitals with skin and respiratory problems after central Costa Rica’s Turrialba Volcano near Cartago, in the Cartago Province of the country, began spewing columns of toxic ash and smoke high into the sky earlier this week.
Turrialba, a stratovolcano, located only about 37 kilometers from the country’s capital city of San Jose and about 45 minutes’ drive from the town of Turrialba, first came alive on Wednesday, but the most powerful eruptions so far occurred at about 7:20 a.m. local time on Friday, according to Costa Rica’s newspaper, Tico Times.
Residents in Cartago reported hearing loud explosions after volcanic activity began on Wednesday.
Costa Ricans took to social media, posting images of the 3,340-meter-high (11,00 feet) volcano spewing thick clouds of ash and smoke in the sky.
According to Tico Times, following Friday’s eruption, thick columns of ash and smoke rose three kilometers high, turned the sky dull grey and caused temperatures to drop some degrees.
“It seems to me to be the strongest eruption in the past six years,” volcanologist Gino Gonzalez told AFP, according to RT.
The expert noted that wind blew the smoke and ash westward towards the most densely populated parts of the small country.
AccuWeather reports that winds between 8-15 mph were recorded on Friday at the Juan Santamaria International Airport — about 30 minutes’ drive northwest of San Juan — after ash began falling at about 9 p.m. EDT on Thursday and early on Friday
According to CB24 Noticias Centroamérica, San Jose residents confirmed that several people were rushed to the hospital due to skin and respiratory problems. TV stations aired footage of schools closed and residents rushing to hospitals for treatment.
The volcanic eruptions disrupted flights. Many flights were diverted and some cancelled.
Residents reported that cars and buildings were coated with ash and that a strong odor of sulfur pervaded the air. The ash was reportedly dispersed in four provinces and in rivers as far as the Heredia province.
In a statement posted to its Facebook page, the country’s National Emergencies Commission advised people to wear face masks to protect their lungs, and to wear tight clothing to protect their skin from harmful aerosols found in the volcanic ash.
According to experts, volcanic ash could be harmful to the lungs because it contains tiny particles of rock and can turn into volcanic glass.
The National Emergencies Commission enforced a five kilometer perimeter around the volcano for safety and health reasons. The Commission also issued a yellow alert for Alvarado and Turrialba.
The latest eruption of Turrialba Volcano has intensified fears of an imminent “Big One.” It is feared that the massive volcano may have resumed intense activity after having been dormant for centuries and that a major magma eruption could soon occur.
Turrialba has had five major eruptions in the last 3,500 years. The volcano showed first signs of renewed life sometime in 1996 after having been quiet since a major eruption in 1866. After showing first signs of renewed life in 1996, there was a significant uptick in activity in 2005, forcing the authorities to close the national park in 2009 as a precaution.
The park authorities had allowed tourists to hike close to the main crater, but following increased activity in the area surrounding the Turrialba Volcano National Park, it was deemed unsafe to allow tourists near the volcano.
Costa Rica has many volcanoes but most are dormant.
The eruption of Turrialba Volcano comes after eruptions were reported in Mexico and Guatemala this week.
[Photo By Grupo Nacion, Alonso Tenorio/AP]