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January 1964: The Irazu volcano sending up gray cloud in Costa Rica serves as backdrop for what was once a tree.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: John Malmin / Los Angeles Times

Jan. 12, 1964: Senora Alfaro protects her baby Lieana, 8 months old, from volcanic ash fallout in San Jose, Costa Rica, with a gauze face covering. The volcanic ash was particularly rough on infants. This photo was published in the Jan. 20, 1964, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: John Malmin / Los Angeles Times

Jan. 1964: Irazu unexpectedly explodes as jeep party, including Los Angeles Times photographer John Malmin, approaches top of volcano. At right is Jim Vial, graduate student of University of Southern California and professor at University of Costa Rica. This photo was published in the Jan. 19, 1964 Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: John Malmin / Los Angeles Times

January 1964: Water truck wets down volcanic ash in the city of San Jose, Costa Rica. This photo was published in the Jan. 20, 1964, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: John Malmin / Los Angeles Times

January 1964: Cattle graze in pasture that escaped destruction from the eruption of the Irazu volcano in Costa Rica. Many other nearby fields were not so lucky. This photo was published in the Jan. 19, 1964, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: John Malmin / Los Angeles Times

January 1964: Jim Vial, left, and Dr. John De Abate leave as explosions rock Irazu volcano. Crater in foreground dug by boulder thrown from volcano. This photo was published in the Jan. 20, 1964, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: John Malmin / Los Angeles Times

January 1964: Strong winds push volcanic ash and smoke toward San Jose and the Central Valley of Costa Rica. This aerial photo was published in the Jan. 20, 1964, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: John Malmin / Los Angeles Times

January 1964: Women in San Jose, Costa Rica, wear veils to keep volcanic ash out of their hair and eyes. Others were using brown paper bags. This photo was published in the Jan. 19, 1964, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: John Malmin / Los Angeles Times

January 1964: Once-green pasture and vegetable land is covered with black sea of volcanic ash on slopes near summit of 11,260-ft. Irazu volcano. This photo was published in the Jan. 20, 1964, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: John Malmin / Los Angeles Times

January 1964: Workmen shovel piles of ash from San Jose, Costa Rica, street during eruption of Irazu volcano. This photo was published in the Jan. 19, 1964, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: John Malmin / Los Angeles Times

January 1964: Man on San Jose street protects himself from ash during eruption of Irazu volcano in Costa Rica. This photo was published in the Jan. 19, 1964, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: John Malmin / Los Angeles Times

January 1964: Workman dumps load of volcanic ash on curb in Costa Rica. This photo was published in the Jan. 21, 1964, Los Angles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: John Malmin / Los Angeles Times

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Volcano covers Costa Rican valley in ash

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Volcano covers Costa Rican valley in ash

On March 19, 1963, the Costa Rican volcano Irazu began an eruption lasting into 1965. San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, was daily covered by additional ash.

In January 1964, Los Angeles Times science editor Irving S. Bengelsdorf and staff photographer John Mailmin visited San Jose. In the Jan. 19, 1964, edition, Bengelsdorf began their five-part series by writing:

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – Swirling clouds of cinders, a gently falling rain of ashes, and gritty sand underfoot have turned the once pleasant and verdant Central Valley of Costa Rica into a dismal vale of gray-black gloom.

In ordinary times San Jose is a charming city. Situated in a 3,800-ft. high valley, it is a clean, sunny, and delightful place to live.

But these are not ordinary times.

For 10 months the almost 300,000 inhabitants of metropolitan San Jose have been living in the “valley of the shadow of death.”

Since last March, volcano Irazu (ee-rah-SOO), an active, 11,260-ft. monster, has been dumping thousands of tons of extremely fine, pulverized, grayish-black, gritty volcanic cinders and ashes over this Central American capital.

The citizens of San Jose walk to street carrying umbrellas, but there is no rain. They wear sunglasses, but there is little sun. The interminable fall of ashes and cinders makes life miserable indeed.

For the blizzard of “black snow,” which does not melt, has turned this once lush and green metropolitan area  into a tortured and crippled city. Parts of the Central Valley are dead, and other sections are dying.

One year later, staff writer George Natanson reported in a March 1, 1965, article that:

The decreased activity (of Irazu) has given Costa Rican housewives and Costa Rican municipalities a chance to put their houses in order. They have gotten rid of the pervasive dust, and homes and cities now are spic-and-span under the tropic sun. The people no longer need wear gauze ash masks to protect their lungs from the volcanic grit. There is no longer need for round-the-clock sweeping of streets.

On Aug. 1, 2013 Los Angeles Times science writer Melissa Pandika reported Magma can take ‘highway from hell’ to fuel volcanic eruptions – an update on the 1963 Irazu volcano eruption.

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