Turrialba volcano puts on a spectacular display

As expected, Volcán Turrialba increased its activity Thursday and erupted three times. Gas and ash shot up to two miles in the air, but most of it was carried west and into the Pacific by strong winds.

A dusting of ash covered parts of the metro area, mainly the sections that are in the northeast part.

Turrialba is one of two sentinels that stand at the eastern end of the valley. Its brother mountain is Irazú, which became a tourist attraction when it erupted in 1963.  Irazú still is active.

The Red Sismológica Nacional at the Universidad de Costa Rica said that Turrialba began emitting small amounts of ash starting Sunday.  Thursday there were three spectacular eruptions.

The first at 10:53 a.m. lasted 36 minutes. A second at 1:38 p.m. spewed gas and ash for 48 minutes. The third was at 2:50 p.m. and lasted until 3:24 p.m., said the Red Sismológica.

The ash that fell outside of a two-kilometer radius around the volcano caused few problems, but those with respiratory illnesses and children may have been affected. The ash cloud had dissipated by nightfall, said the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Tobias Bolaños airport in Pavas closed at mid-afternoon when ash in the air reduced visibility. The big international airport in Alajuela, Juan Santamaría, also closed until 8 a.m. today in order to consider the volcano’s behavior during the night. Some flights were detoured to Liberia’s Daniel Oduber airport.

Not many persons live near the volcano, and many of those who had been there have moved elsewhere.

As A.M. Costa Rica reported March 6 the national emergency commission said that scientific indications suggested that Turrialba was headed to an event of great turrialba031315magnitude. That assessment was based on samples of ash.

The mountain is under 24-hour watch. Roads have been closed, and police are maintaining checkpoints. The national park adjacent to the volcano had been closed from 2009 to 2011, and then the park was closed again in 2013. The last major eruption was in October.

The education ministry closed 12 schools in the vicinity of the volcano for today. They are Guayabo, La Reunión, Santa Cruz, Julia Fernández, La Pastora, El Volcán, La Orieta, Las Virtudes, El Sitio de las Abras, Calle Vargas, Bonilla and the Unidad Pedagógica el Torito.

No one knows what the 10,958-foot (3,340-meter) Turrialba will do next.

Comisión Nacional de Prevención de Riesgos y Atención de Emergencias and neighbors hope the mountain returns to dormancy. Some the tourism industry would like to see a series of moderate eruptions that attract visitors from afar.

Meanwhile, some expats said they were purchasing clear plastic and tape to block windows and doors if the mountain increases its emission of ash. That happened in 1963, and San José residents found themselves shoveling ash and trying to keep the fine particles out of houses.

Today computers are highly vulnerable to the ash, as are other electronic devices.

The eruptions Thursday were a boon to local television. There were endless special shows highlighting every possible facet of eruptions and ash along with continual replays of the eruptions of the day.

Strong winds overnight were pushing much of the Central Valley ash around.

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