Colombia volcano erupts, prompts evacuations

BOGOTA Sat Jun 30, 2012 10:31pm EDT

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia evacuated people from communities close to the Nevado del Ruiz volcano after an eruption on Saturday that spewed smoke and ash from its crater, bringing back memories of avalanches that in 1985 buried tens of thousands under rocks.

President Juan Manuel Santos said on his Twitter account that the area around the Nevado del Ruiz, in the central spine of Colombia's Andean mountain range, had been put on red alert and people should leave the area.

Even as volcanic activity began to subside, emergency services urged 4,800 residents in Caldas and nearby Tolima province to get to safety, according to Carlos Ivan Marquez, who heads the security effort. The volcano is about 110 miles west of the capital Bogota.

"It's fundamental that communities near to the volcano follow all security recommendations; that means preventative evacuations and that people remain calm," Marquez said.

Communities around the volcano, also known by the indigenous name Kumanday, usually heed government warnings to flee as memories remain fresh of the 1985 tragedy that killed as many as 25,000 and injured 5,000.

Back then, as the 17,400-feet (5,300-metre) volcano erupted, mud, rocks and lava exploded from the mountain and collapsed onto the valley town of Armero as residents slept, killing almost all who lived there.

(Reporting by Helen Murphy and Luis Jaime Acosta; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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