Thousands of villagers whose homes were destroyed by a volcanic eruption in Ecuador's central Andes are in urgent need of food and medicine for their livestock, officials said.
Tungurahua volcano remained calm after an eruption on Wednesday and Thursday destroyed 10 villages whose occupants will have to be relocated, left four persons dead, buried the houses of almost 5,000 people under tons of ash and damaged 40,000 hectares of pasture and crops, according to the Civil Defense.
Jorge Arteaga, director of operations for the Red Cross, said on Monday that displaced villagers urgently need "nonperishable foods and toiletries."
"Here alone we have 3,200 refugees from seven directly affected communities and we anticipate that none will return to their villages, which are in high-risk areas," said Juan Salazar, the mayor of Penipe.
"Not only do we want food for people. We also want food and medicine for animals because they are dying of starvation and diseases. Everything is covered by ash and they do not have anything to eat," said Fausto Acosta, the mayor of Banos, a city of 18,000 inhabitants that was not severely damaged.
Interior Minister Antonio Andretta said the effects of the eruption "are so serious and have so many implications ... that the government is trying to attend to the most important things."
"It is a national problem," he added.
Health Minister Guillermo Wag-ner said one of the problems authorities face is "the attachment to the land" felt by villagers, who want to return to their villages despite the danger and destruction.
"In the last 24 hours the volcano's activity has remained low," said Santiago Arellano, an expert at Ecuador's Geophysical Institute.
But a new eruption is still possible because of the buildup of magma in the volcano's crater, he warned in a telephone interview from an observation point named "Eyes of the Volcano."
Reports from the Geophysical Institute indicated that the cloud of ash provoked by the eruption had a diameter of 280km and reached as high as the stratosphere. The gases, ash and incandescent rocks spewed by Tungurahua rose to 8km in height.
The eruption was the 14th time Tungurahua has sent hot lava and ash into the air since 1534.