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Blowing its top

Ecuador's Cotopaxi volcano rained ash on a dozen villages in the country's central Andean region last Saturday. The area has been marred by a blanket of soot from eruptions that began more than a week ago.

The volcanic activity, which started on Aug 14 after 138 years of silence, continued into last Saturday with "steam emissions and a moderate load of ash", the country's Security Coordination Ministry said.

From the nearby capital of Quito, home to some 2.3 million Ecuadorians, a grey column 2km high could be seen billowing above the crater.

The volcano, which towers 5,897m high, is considered one of the most threatening in the region because of its size and proximity to well-populated towns.

In Machachi, one of the towns hardest hit by the volcano's eruptions, farmers are struggling against the after-effects.

"The cows have nothing left to eat because all the ash is on the grass, which is bad for them because it gives them fever, diarrhoea, and it stops their milk production," villager Nelson Pila told Agence France-Presse.

At least a dozen villages and part of southern Quito, located just 45km from Cotopaxi, have been affected by ash fall, the ministry said.

The ash "burns crops, dries them and they are lost", said 36-year-old farmer and livestock breeder Maria De Los Angeles Gualotuna.

The government, which declared a 60-day state of emergency, has sent livestock feed to the area and is preparing an evacuation plan in case the situation worsens. Around 500 people were evacuated from the volcano's surroundings last weekend.

"There is a lot of dust," said 60-year-old Machachi resident Oswaldo Diaz.

"All day, the steam comes out of the mountain and burns the throat and eyes."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2015, with the headline 'Blowing its top'. Print Edition | Subscribe