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Effects of volcanic ash on Bariloche, Argentina

Volcanic ashIt had been a mostly cloudy day, but around 4:00 in the afternoon, the sky had cleared some and we even had a bit of sunshine. Ma and Pa left with our big, hand-pulled cart to go get a large bag of potatoes. We five children were all at home. We started   our gas-powered generator for computer time and to charge up the battery for our dc lights. The massive cloud came rolling in over the mountains to the northwest of Bariloche. We noticed an unusual brown hue in the higher background of the enormous dark cloud. Talitha, seeing rain or snow coming was putting crates of pinecones, etc. under cover. It started sprinkling a very light, white substance. Talitha got a piece of it in her eye and it hurt a little, which indicated to us that it wasn’t snow. Ma and Pa were a half-mile away and thought maybe it was sleet coming down until they got under cover and saw that they had grey ash on their coats and realized it must be from a volcanic eruption. Others along the way confirmed it.

Soon the sky was totally obscured except for the far off fringes along the horizon to the east where an uncanny light shone through. It was dark. All the street lights came on and it was only 5:00 in the afternoon, 2 hours prior to sunset. Ma and Pa rushed home as fast as they could, which took 2 hours. Fortunately, there was not much wind, so the ash wasn’t blowing, but it was thick and falling steadily. Some of it got in their eyes, down their necks and it was difficult to breath. The ash was like very fine crushed rock interspersed with minuscule black specks, it has a sandy consistency, and the overall effect is grey in color. Just as they reached the final stretch, pushing the cart up to the top of the hill, the first bright lightning flashed with a loud clap of thunder, a lightning not caused by rain, but by ash particles suspended 30,000 feet into the air. They didn’t even pause to rest. They came home as quickly as they could because they were on top of the ridge that separates us from the rest of the world, making them very vulnerable to lightning. We children shut off the generator immediately. Lightning is practically non-existent here because of the high altitude – so it was spooky. The lightning increased in frequency and continued into the night, with several long and deep, apocalyptic booms and staccatos.

Ciela holding a handful of ash.Ma & Pa got home with a generous dusting of ash on them. Pa was exasperated to find that his laundry operation was full of ash. He does laundry outdoors for lack of enough shelter indoors. We mostly sat and waited it out. We had to use the umbrella when we went outdoors to keep the ash out of our hair and faces. It kept falling until there was about an inch and a half of it on the ground. It thinned just enough before actual nightfall that we could see that there was still light in the sky. But the clouds were thick and remained until about midday Resday, a.k.a. Sunday. When we got up Resday morning it felt like we were walking out onto the Moon. We gathered a large pile of the ash on Monday, thinking it will be useful to mix with cement pre-mix for future projects. The covering on the ground was slightly damp so we had fun writing and drawing in it.

There were no new developments until Monday night when it rained hard. Pa got up at 6:00 Tuesday morning in the heavy rain, and was doing his morning routines, lighting the wood-burning stove in our library cabin, etc. He was writing a reflection at 6:30 when the roof began to leak profusely. His reflection had to do with faith, here it is: “Faith is to cling to an invisible God as Savior and King through thick and thin with a glue that he alone is able to provide.” He got Ma up and they worked to cover all the books, studies, papers, etc. in the library with plastic sheeting. The ash was blocking the flow of water off the roof and forcing it to flow up under the overlapping corrugated, cement roof panels. Pa asked us children if we were dry in our beds. Thankfully we all were, so we got to sleep in, and stay in bed where it was dry.

We heard on the radio news that the combination of ash covering everything and the heavy rain made a cementing effect, short-circuiting the high-voltage electric lines and all of Bariloche’s electricity was out. Fortunately we are not on the grid and the only effect is when the water to the gravel pit is out of service because that’s where we get potable water. The rain relieved enough after about 2 hours of leaking that Pa was able to go out and scrape the ash out of the roof grooves before the rain came back to stay for the rest of the day. Ma and L’abri didn’t go to town for internet and Pa didn’t go to class because his students were without electricity. He usually buys meat on his way home, so today we had plain potatoes for lunch and supper.

Now we anticipate that Bariloche will be dealing with the ash for many months to come. The city storm sewers are plugged with it, roofs are leaking, an enormous wholesale outlet had its power off and its roof leaking on their merchandise earlier this morning, people driving vehicles have their engine compartments loaded with the grit and that catastrophe has only begun because when the rain goes away the horrific Bariloche winds will drive it everywhere, worse than the rain did. The airport is closed for at leas the next 2 weeks. Birds have no food. Today they came right up onto our porch hungry and thirsty. The wildlife and livestock will be unable to graze for many months to come because the ash has nowhere to go and covers everything. We are grateful that we are surviving although amidst great tribulation and we are sorry to hear about the neighboring town, Villa la Angostura, where we hear they got plugged with 20 centimeters (about 8 inches) of ash! We can’t imagine the hardship they are facing. God help us all.

by Jireh




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