Nicaragua evacuates 3,000 as volcano spews ash

By the Associated Press | September 8, 2012 | 5:43 PM EDT

A Nicaraguan National Police officer patrols on a road blanketed with volcanic ash spewed from the San Cristobal volcano, near Chinandega, Nicaragua, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012. Nicaragua’s tallest volcano, located about 70 miles (110 kilometers) northwest of Managua, near the Honduran border, has let off a series of explosions, spewing gases and showering ash on nearby towns, prompting an evacuations of residents. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — The San Cristobal volcano spewed out a column of ash and gas 2½ miles high Saturday, leading Nicaraguan authorities to evacuate about 3,000 people from nine communities around the country's tallest mountain.

Residents reported hearing three powerful explosions in the volcano as the cloud began billowing skyward and ash drifted over nearby villages.

"This activity could affect some 500 families totaling 3,000 people, so we decided to evacuate them," said Guillermo Gonzalez, executive director of the government's disaster agency.

Civil defense personnel said 300 soldiers were sent to evacuate people and care for them.

Javier Mejia, director of Nicaragua's geological institute, said monitoring instruments showed "strong activity" in the volcano. "We do not rule out anything, but call for calm," he said.

The 1,740-meter (5,740-foot) volcano sits 140 kilometers (87 miles) northwest of Managua, the capital. It has been active since 1520, Mejia said.

Nicaragua has been on alert since a strong earthquake shook neighboring Costa Rica on Wednesday and then a swarm of 17 minor tremors were recorded in the area around Lake Managua next to the capital the following day.