Friday, February 26, 2021

Colombia Closes Second Airport Due to Volcanic Ash Clouds

Colombia’s government has closed a second airport after the Volcanic Ash Advisory Center in Washington issued an ash cloud advisory for the Nevado Del Ruiz Volcano, which Colombian authorities have been saying for weeks is probably getting ready to erupt.

An official with the civil aviation authority Aerocivil said the Matecana Airport in the city of Pereira was closed Wednesday “as a precaution” due to continued ash clouds in Colombia’s central, coffee-growing region, located just west of the volcano. The nearby Nubia airport in Manizales has been closed since the beginning of June after the Ruiz Volcano began rumbling and spewing gas and ash.

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Hundreds of flights have already been canceled, suspended or diverted due to closing of the airport in Manizales.

Airlines affected by the airport closures include Avianca, the main carrier in the airline group AviancaTaca Holding SA (PFAVTA.BO), Lan Colombia, part of the Chilean flagship carrier LAN Airlines SA (LFL, LAN.SN), and Copa Colombia, part of the Panamanian airline group Copa Holdings (CPA).

For the past few weeks, Avianca and Lan Colombia had been flying their Manizales-bound passengers to Pereira, then shutting them by bus to their final destination. A representative at Avianca reservations department said the new plan is to send all Manizales and Pereira passengers to an airport in the town of Armenia, and then put them on buses.

Armenia, also in a coffee-growing region, is about a two-hour drive to Manizales.

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Last week, Avianca’s press office said the costs to the airline stemming from the volcanic ash have been “significant,” but declined to disclose a dollar-figure estimate. Representatives at the press office were unavailable for comment Wednesday.

The 17,800-foot Ruiz volcano, located west of Bogota, hasn’t erupted since the 1980s. After it began rumbling in late May, the government’s mining and geology institute Ingeominas issued an “orange” alert, which means it will “probably” erupt in a matter of days or weeks. Tens of thousands of face masks have been distributed free of charge to residents in the area.

In 1985, an eruption caused hot volcanic flows to melt the ice- and snow-covered summit area. This unleashed a cascade of debris down the volcano’s eastern slope, which wiped the town of Armero off the map, killing 25,000 people. Another 2,000 people were killed in nearby areas.

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