TIME Ecuador

Ecuador Declares State of Emergency Over Volcano

Ecuador Volcano Cotopaxi
Dolores Ochoa—AP A view of Cotopaxi volcano spewing ashes as seen from Latacunga, Ecuador on Aug. 15, 2015.

Cotopaxi is one of the world's most dangerous volcanoes

The president of Ecuador declared a state of emergency Saturday in response to volcano activity 30 miles away from the country’s capital.

A few hundred people were evacuated from two residential areas as the volcano began to spew ash. In a statement on his website, President Rafael Correa said officials will continue to monitor the situation and urged the public to remain calm.

The Cotopaxi volcano has been under active watch since June when increased activity was detected by the Ecuadorian Geophysics Institute. The institute says that the volcano’s frequency and style of eruptions make it one of the world’s most dangerous.

The volcano’s last major eruptive period occurred in the late 19th century, according to the Geophysics Institute. That incident led to intense economic losses in the region.

 

TIME natural disaster

Wind and Heat Fuel Wildfires Across the West

The federal government will exhaust its firefighting budget soon

Sunday ushered in calmer weather across the West, aiding firefighters who worked to contain flames fed by drought conditions and whipped up by wind and heat.

Firefighters across the Pacific Northwest are working to protect property from fast-moving wildfires that destroyed multiple homes in eastern Oregon, cut off power in Washington and forced thousands of evacuations throughout the region. A 70-year-old woman in Idaho died while preparing to flee as awildfire expanded east of Lewiston.

A look at conditions:

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WASHINGTON

Fire officials are hoping calmer weather Sunday will aid fire crews using air tankers, helicopters and bulldozers to attack several large fires burning in the Chelan area in central Washington that have destroyed more than 50 structures.

Fire incident spokesman Wayne Patterson said Sunday that more fire crews, including from the Washington National Guard, are being mobilized to fight six fires burning in the area.

Together, the blazes in the area have scorched more than 155 square miles, forced about 1,500 residents to flee their homes and caused power outages.

Officials say more than 50 structures have been destroyed and the number is likely to go higher.

Patterson said air tankers have established lines to keep the flames from reaching downtown Chelan, a popular central Washington resort town. Helicopters have been dipping into Lake Chelan to pull up water to battle blazes north of the lake.

“There were literally people on the beaches near that lake in their swim wear out on the lake right near it,” Patterson told The Associated Press.

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CALIFORNIA

Light winds helped crews increase containment of a wildfire that destroyed several cabins and charred nearly 2-and-a-half square miles of forest near Los Angeles.

Officials revised the size of the fire downward after previous estimates put it at nearly 4 square miles.

The blaze in the Angeles National Forest above the suburbs of Glendora and Azusa was 20 percent contained and holding steady Sunday.

Six campgrounds remained evacuated around the fire that burned four cabins and an outbuilding when it broke out on Friday.

Ten firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion, dehydration and minor injuries.

A wildfire that was sparked near a former rehabilitation center in Castaic Sunday burned three structures before spreading to at least 500 acres in the Angeles National Forest, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Andrew Mitchell said.

Meanwhile, a brush fire started near a riverbed in Montebello, a suburb 8 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, halted operations at an oil field, prompted the evacuation of a park and road closures.

A 45-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of arson, Montebello Fire Department Deputy Chief Dan Amador told the Whittier Daily News.

A Los Angeles County Fire Department helicopter made a hard landing while assisting in the firefight, causing a minor injury to a crew member, fire Inspector Chris Reade said.

The fire, which grew to about 200 acres, was 20 percent contained

In Northern California, firefighters made more gains against a wildfire 100 miles north of San Francisco that forced mountain-town dwellers to evacuate for the second time in days. Wind shifts sent smoke from the fire all the way to the San Francisco Bay Area, where residents turned to social media to report the haze. The National Weather Service said smoky conditions were likely to remain in the area throughout the weekend.

Two fires have charred dry Lower Lake, the most recent burning 39 square miles of thick brush and oak trees in Lake and Napa counties. It was 82 percent contained by Sunday.

An earlier, larger fire in the same area was fully contained Friday more than two weeks after it broke out. The blaze destroyed 43 homes.

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COLORADO

Lightning storms across northwest Colorado are being blamed for several wildfires, including one north of Craig that was estimated at 450 acres. The Bureau of Land Management says no injuries have been reported and one home was evacuated.

The Northwest Colorado Fire Management Unit says nine fires were ignited Saturday.

Firefighters say the fires were pushed in multiple directions by erratic winds from passing storms.

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MONTANA

Better weather conditions Sunday aided firefighting efforts on most wildfires burning in western Montana and prevented new major fire starts.

In addition, no huge runs like the ones seen Friday on some fires were reported.

Fires are burning in Glacier National Park and in other national forests and on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

The state’s biggest fire has burned nearly 21 square miles in Glacier.

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IDAHO

A 70-year-old woman was killed when she fell while preparing to flee from a wildfire expanding quickly east of Lewiston, the Idaho County Sheriff’s Department said Saturday.

Cheryl Lee Wissler of Adams Grade died Friday from a head injury she sustained when she fell, authorities said.

An estimated 30 homes and 75 other structures were lost to the blaze, the sheriff’s department said. The fire is surrounding the small town of Kamiah, about 60 miles east of Lewiston, and burned to the edge of Clearwater River, directly across the water from downtown.

More than 750 people were assigned to fight several fires that together have charred more than 50 square miles in the area near Kamiah.

The region was already struggling after severe drought damaged wheat harvests, with farmers watching as their normally plump wheat kernels grew pinched and stunted from the lack of water. Though most of the wheat had been cut before the fires started, bone-dry stubble still covers the prairie and the forests surrounding Kamiah are parched.

TIME New Jersey

Small Earthquake Hits New Jersey

United States Geological Survey

78 people initially reported feeling the quake

(BERNARDSVILLE, N.J.) — People in parts of New Jersey got an early wake-up call Friday from a small earthquake that caused no damage or injuries.

The magnitude-2.7 quake hit around 3:41 a.m., roughly 2 miles north of Bernardsville, about 35 miles west of New York City, at a depth of 3 1/2 miles, the U.S. Geological Survey said. It was initially recorded as a 2.5 magnitude.

Seventy-eight people initially reported feeling it, USGS geophysicist Zachery Reeves said.

Stuart Heiser, who was visiting family in Morris Plains, felt the house shake and heard an explosion that sounded like a tree had fallen.

“It lasted one second, but it was definitely loud enough and physically violent enough to wake everyone up,” Heiser said.

The quake struck along a branch of the Ramapo Fault, said Won-Young-Kim, who heads the seismic network for Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Such small earthquakes happen in the region every few years, he said, but “we can’t rule out bigger ones because a magnitude 5 hit around New York Harbor in the 1870s.”

The last earthquake reported in New Jersey had a magnitude of 1.9 and happened about 17 miles east-southeast of Trenton on Dec. 13, 2014.

TIME natural disaster

Millions Affected as Widespread Flooding Inundates Swaths of Southern Asia

Millions of people have been affected, hundreds are dead and thousands of have lost their homes and land

Flooding brought on by torrential monsoon rains has left large swaths of land across parts of southern Asia underwater, and has affected an estimated 10 million people in India alone.

The usual monsoon rains have been made worse this year by Cyclone Komen, which made landfall in Bangladesh last Friday.

In India, 200 people have died and more than 1 million have been moved to relief camps in West Bengal, which has taken the brunt of the damage, reports Agence France-Presse. Flash floods and landslides have swept away homes, farmlands and livelihoods in Manipur, Gujarat and Rajasthan states as well.

On Tuesday, two passenger trains derailed off a bridge into a river in Madhya Pradesh. It is believed the heavy rain had caused the river levels to rise and partially submerged the track, reports the BBC.

Meanwhile, flooding in neighboring Burma has caused widespread devastation in several western states, prompting the government to appeal for international assistance on Tuesday.

More than 200,000 people have been affected and at least 47 people have died.

Burma’s President Thein Sein has declared four areas in the country, formally known as Myanmar, as disaster zones and many remote areas are still cut off by floodwaters, landslides or damaged roads, leaving thousands of people without aid.

Aid agencies are particularly concerned with the 140,000 people already living in displacement camps in the country’s western Rakhine state.

“The floods are hitting children and families who are already very vulnerable, including those living in camps in Rakhine state,” said Shalini Bahuguna, from the U.N. Children’s Fund UNICEF.

Flooding has claimed 150 lives and affected 800,000 people across several Pakistan provinces including Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and the disputed region of Kashmir.

In northern Vietnam, flooding has left more than 12,000 people without electricity for days and record rainfall has affected the power supply to 27 cities and provinces nationwide. Since July 26, Quang Ninh province saw a total rainfall of 1,500 mm, considered to be the worst in 40 years.

Heavy rains and flooding have damaged 10,000 houses and ruined 4,000 hectares of rice and other crops in the province. Seventeen people have died.

And in disaster-hit Nepal, at least 90 people have died in the past two months as a result of floods and landslides.

TIME natural disaster

Al Roker: The Tragic History of Early Weather Forecasting

Galveston boats wrecked in the hurricane of 1900
AP Hand-colored halftone reproduction of a photograph of oyster boats piled up at a Galveston wharf after the hurricane of 1900

This exclusive excerpt from Al Roker's upcoming book about the Great Gulf Hurricane of 1900 explains how the science of weather forecasting came to be

Meteorology hasn’t always been as exact a science as it is today—as Al Roker well knows. His upcoming book, The Storm of the Century, is a narrative account of the hurricane that devastated Galveston, Tex., in September of 1900, essentially destroying a city in one single day. One of the many figures who populates the story of unprecedented disaster is Isaac Cline, the chief meteorologist for Galveston. The turn of the century was an exciting time to be in meteorology: it seemed that, as Roker writes, “nature’s terrors would succumb to the superior intelligence of the human race.” Galveston proved that theory wrong, even though Cline was well versed in the most advanced weather science of his day, which Roker explains in the exclusive excerpt below:

While the science of forecasting was becoming, in Cline’s day, a modern and objective one, much of the technology on which it depended was ancient.

Of the big three, the anemometer used the oldest technology. Four fine, metal, hemispherical cups, their bowls set vertically against the wind, caught air flow. Because each cup was fixed to one of the four posts of a thin, square metal cross, lying horizontally, and because the cross’s crux was fixed to a vertical pole, when wind pushed the cups, they made the whole cross rotate. It made revolutions around the pole.

In Cline’s day, the pole was connected to a sensor with a dial read-out display. The number of revolutions the cross made per minute—clocked by the sensor, transferred by the turnings of the wheels, and displayed on the dial—indicated a proportion of the wind’s speed in miles per hour.

Rotating cups, wheels, and a dial: the anemometer was fully mechanical, with no reliance on electricity. And while other competing anemometer designs existed, involving liquids and tubes, the four-cup design became standard in American meteorology in the nineteenth century, remaining remarkably stable.

In 1846, an Irish meteorologist named John Thomas Romney Robinson upgraded the technology. But before that, the biggest development in clocking wind speeds had been made in 1485—by Leonardo da Vinci. The anemometer was already a durable meteorology classic when Isaac Cline began studying.

The second member of the forecasting big three, which Isaac Cline studied with such interest under the Signal Corps, was the hygrometer, which measures relative humidity. Like the anemometer, it’s been around ever since a not-very-accurate means of measuring relative humidity was built by—once again—Leonardo da Vinci.

By Cline’s day, a basic hygrometer measured the degree of moisture in the air by using two glass bulbs, each at one end of a glass tube. The tube passed through the top of a wooden post and bent downward on both sides of the post, farther down one side than the other. Thus one of the bulbs was lower than the other. In that lower bulb sat a thermometer, dipped in ether, a gas that had condensed in the bulb into a liquid.

The other, higher bulb contained ether too, but here the gas remained in its vapor form. That bulb was covered in a light fabric.

When condensed ether was poured over the fabric covering the higher bulb, the bulb cooled, and the vaporized ether within condensed, lowering vapor pressure in the bulb. That lowering of pressure caused the liquid ether in the lower bulb to begin evaporating into the space provided. So the lower bulb’s temperature fell as well.

Moisture—known as a “dew”—therefore formed on the outside of the lower bulb. As it did, the temperature indicated by the thermometer in that bulb was read and noted. That reading is called the dew-point temperature. Simply comparing the dew-point temperature to the air temperature outside the bulbs—as measured by a common weather thermometer, conveniently mounted on the hygrometer’s wooden post—gives the relative humidity. It’s a ratio of dew-point temperature to air temperature. The closer dew-point temperature gets to air temperature, the higher the relative humidity.

As a student of humidity, Isaac Cline read tables (sometimes built into the hygrometer for quick reference) showing the exact humidity ratios. But experienced forecasters know the rough ratios by heart.

We concern ourselves with humidity mainly on hot days. When there’s lots of moisture in the air, it can’t accept much more moisture, and that means warmth has a harder time leaving our bodies via perspiration. With a temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit and a dew point of 90 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll get a relative humidity of nearly 86 percent—quite uncomfortable. When air temperature and dew point are identical, humidity is said to be 100 percent. We really don’t like that.

There were other kinds of hygrometers as well, developed during Isaac Cline’s early career as a meteorologist. One, called a psychrometer, compared a wet thermometer bulb, cooled by evaporation, with a dry thermometer bulb.

And in 1892, a German scientist—he had the unfortunate name of Richard Assmann—built what was known as an aspiration psychrometer for even more minute accuracy. It used two matched thermometers, protected from radiation interference by a thermal shield, and a drying fan driven by a motor. By 1900, when Isaac Cline was working in the weather station in the Levy Building in Galveston, hygrometer science was at its apex.

But perhaps the most important element in weather forecasting is the barometer.

The role of barometric pressure—air pressure—is counterintuitive. We can directly feel the phenomena measured by anemometers and hygrometers—wind speeds and relative humidity: wind knocks us around and humidity makes us sticky. But the sensations caused by air pressure work differently from the way we might expect.

That difference has to do with the very nature of air. Usually we don’t think much about air. While we know it gives us oxygen, breathing is largely unconscious. We notice air when it’s very still or very windy. And we notice air when it stinks.

Otherwise we generally ignore the air. We imagine it as nothing but a weightless emptiness.

But air does have weight. That weight exerts pressure on the Earth’s surface, as well as on everything on the Earth: human skin and inanimate objects. We refer to the pressure of that weight as “atmospheric pressure,” and we measure it with a barometer.

When more and bigger molecules gather, air’s weight increases, and the atmosphere bears down snugly on all surfaces. We call that effect, not surprisingly, “high pressure.” The strange thing, though, is that high pressure—all that heavy weight of air—makes us feel freer, more energetic. It makes the air feel not heavier but lighter.

That’s because where pressure is high, relative humidity is suppressed. Warmth can’t lift as easily from the surface of any object—including from the Earth’s surface. Warm air currents are held at bay, moisture is blocked, winds remain stable. Rain, lightning, and thunder are discouraged. High pressure usually means nice weather.

By the same token, when we complain that the air feels heavy—on those days of sluggishness, when we feel as if we’re struggling through a swamp—heaviness is not really what we’re feeling. Just the opposite. On those days, the air has less weight, lower pressure.

The result, usually, is just some unpleasantness. That’s because lighter and fewer molecules in the atmosphere cause atmospheric “lifting.” Heat and moisture lift upward from all surfaces. The humidity gets bad.

But when barometric pressure falls low enough, winds may be expected to rise, clouds form, and rain, thunder, and lightning follow. With very low air pressure, things aren’t just unpleasant. They’re dangerous, sometimes deadly.

Barometers for measuring pressure had been part of experimentation in natural science since the 1640s, well before modern weather forecasting. For a long time, it just seemed interesting, and possibly useful, to know that atmospheric pressure exists at all. Or to see that it can do work—like pushing mercury upward in a column.

But soon people began to apply the science. They used pressure readings not only to note the existing weather but to predict future changes in weather. One scientist graduated the scale so the pressure could be measured in exact increments. Another realized that instead of pushing mercury upward, the scale could be turned into a circle to form a dial; that enabled far subtler readings.

Yet another change came with the portable barometer. Using no liquid, and therefore easier to transport on ships, the portable barometer took the form of a small vacuum-sealed metal box, made of beryllium and copper. Atmospheric pressure made the box expand and contract, thus moving a needle on its face. A barometer like that could be carried in a pocket by a ship’s captain. He could watch the pressure fall and know that he was sailing into a storm.

Just before Isaac Cline began studying, the widely traveled Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy, of the British Royal Navy, formalized a new system for detailed weather prediction based on barometric readings. FitzRoy had served as captain on HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin’s exploration ship, and also as governor of New Zealand. His idea was to go beyond just noting existing and future weather conditions. He found ways of communicating conditions from ship to ship. That aided safety at sea.

By the mid-nineteenth century, a large barometer of FitzRoy’s design was set up on big stone housings at every British port. Captains and crews could see what they were about to get into. In 1859, a storm at sea caused so many deaths that FitzRoy began working up a system of charts that would allow for what he called, for the first time anywhere, “forecasting the weather.”

HarperCollins

The Storm of the Century by Al Roker will be available on Aug. 11, 2015.

Read next: Panama Canal to Place Limits on Shipping Due to El Niño Drought

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TIME natural disaster

See the Devastation Wrought by Wildfire in California

12,000 people were evacuated after the fire spread to more than 84 square miles on Monday

TIME natural disaster

Hundreds Flee California Wildfires as Governor Declares State of Emergency

A firefighter was killed in the fires

(LOWER LAKE, Calif.)—Blazes raging in forests and woodlands across California have taken the life of a firefighter and forced hundreds of people to flee their homes as an army of firefighters continue to battle them from the air and the ground.

Twenty-three large fires, many sparked by lightning strikes, were burning across Northern California on Saturday, said state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant. Some 8,000 firefighters were attempting to subdue them, something made incredibly difficult by several years of drought that have dried out California.

“The conditions and fire behavior we’re seeing at 10 in the morning is typically what we’d see in late afternoon in late August and September,” said Nick Schuler, a division chief with the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “But because of the dry conditions, because of the drought-stricken vegetation accompanied by the steep terrain and winds, we’re seeing fire activity that’s abnormal for this time of year.”

In the Modoc National Forest, about a hundred miles south of Oregon, David Ruhl, an engine captain from South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest, was killed fighting a fast-moving blaze. He had vanished Thursday while fighting the 800-acre fire and his body wasn’t recovered until Friday.

The biggest fire was in the Lower Lake area north of San Francisco where firefighters had to wade through thick smoke and flying embers to turn loose horses, goats and other livestock in rural neighborhoods as their owners fled to safety. The fast-moving fire had burned three homes by Friday and was threatening 450 other structures. Only 5 percent contained, it had spread across 28 square miles and was growing quickly.

The fires prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency for California on Friday. As part of the order, he activated the California National Guard to help with disaster recovery.

Berlant said firefighters were hoping cooler weather might help them this weekend, but there was also the threat that lingering thunderstorms could bring more lightning strikes like those that ignited several of the fires.

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BURNING HILLS

The fast-spreading wildfire near Lower Lake north of San Francisco has torched three homes and is threatening more than 450 structures.

At least 650 residents have been evacuated from their homes as the blaze raged in hills covered in dense brush and oak trees and dotted with ranch homes. It has charred 28 square miles near Lower Lake, south of Clear Lake, a popular summer recreation spot.

Only 5 percent contained, it was moving southwest toward Lower Lake and Clear Lake.

“We saw it behind our house. We saw the smoke pouring over. So we just started collecting stuff and we left, to find out later that everyone was evacuated out here,” said resident Julie Flannery.

When they returned Friday they found their two horses and one mule were gone. They hoped firefighters turned them loose so they could make their way to safety.

“The rest of this is just material stuff,” she said. “The animals and the family is the most important.”

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FIRE LINES HOLDING

Crews battling a fire east of Napa Valley held their ground Friday, more than a week after it started.

The blaze has charred more than 12 square miles in Solano County. The fire is about 45 miles east of Napa’s wine county, and vineyards are not threatened.

At least 136 structures are threatened, but evacuation orders have been lifted. It is mostly contained, and crews expect to have it fully corralled by Monday.

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FOOTHILLS FIRES

A woman was arrested in connection with a small fire near Groveland, a stop-off point for travelers headed to Yosemite National Park.

The 200-acre fire, about 20 miles from the park’s entrance, was 45 percent contained Friday. About two dozen homes are threatened and voluntary evacuations are in place.

Lisa Ann Vilmur was arrested Thursday night for recklessly causing a fire and jailed on $100,000 bail. It was not known Friday if she has an attorney.

In a separate foothills blaze northeast of Sacramento, evacuation orders have been lifted for residents of 50 homes. The fire, which ignited Saturday, burned through more than 3 1/2 square miles and is almost fully contained.

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BASS LAKE BLAZE

Residents of 200 homes in the central California community of Cascadel Woods were ordered to evacuate Thursday.

A wildfire burning near Bass Lake for several days spread to more than 6 square miles and is partially contained.

Authorities say a boy acknowledged starting the fire by playing with a lighter to burn pine needles in the dry Sierra Nevada. They say the boy faces criminal charges but is not in custody because he and his family are cooperating.

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MODOC NATIONAL FOREST FIRE

Engine Captain David Ruhl of South Dakota was killed battling the fire that broke out Thursday in the Modoc National Forest about 100 miles south of Oregon.

The firefighter had vanished Thursday and his body wasn’t found until Friday. U.S. Forest Service officials didn’t immediately reveal the cause of death.

Ruhl, who was assigned to a Black Hills National Forest firefighting team, had been helping California firefighters since June.

The fire broke out southeast of Lava Camp and rapidly grew to consume 800 acres. No containment figure was immediately given.

TIME natural disaster

See the Devastation of Washington State’s Wildfire From Above

The worst fire of the season devastated entire neighborhoods, as the state struggles with an ongoing drought

TIME natural disaster

See the Biggest California Wildfire This Year

The 11,000-acre 'Lake Fire' continues to ravage the San Bernardino National Forest

A wildfire that sparked Wednesday afternoon near Big Bear Lake, Calif. had grown to 11,000 acres as of Friday morning, according to a government website.

The fire is the worst of the year, the Los Angeles Times reported. Wind and the dry undergrowth due to drought conditions in the area have contributed to the blaze’s rapid spread through sections of the San Bernardino National Forest. The fire is currently 10% contained, with fire engines, helicopters, air tankers and more than 500 respondents combating the spreading flames.

Hundreds in the area have been evacuated, but government website InciWeb stated that no structures had been destroyed as of Friday. The fire is currently spreading further inland to the south and east.

The fire’s cause remains under investigation.

TIME natural disaster

Thousands Evacuated in Indonesia After Volcano Starts Spewing Ash and Toxic Gas

More people expected to flee in the coming days

Thousands of people living in the vicinity of a volcano on Indonesia’s island of Sumatra have been evacuated from their homes after it began erupting.

Mount Sinabung started to flare up over the weekend, sending hot ash and gas — known as pyroclastic flows — gushing down its slopes, reports the BBC. No injuries have been reported.

Authorities raised the alert level on June 2 after detecting a sharp increase in activity at Sinabung. In the past month, at least 3,000 villagers, including 1,200 on Monday, have been ordered from their homes and officials expect thousands more people will need to be evacuated in the coming days.

The volcano had been dormant for more than four centuries but roused back to life in 2010 and has been highly active since. In February 2014, at least 14 people were killed as pyroclastic flows engulfed nearby villages.

[BBC]

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