Colima (Mexico) (AFP) - Hundreds of people were evacuated from villages around Mexico's "Volcano of Fire" and an airport closed amid fears an eruption could escalate to become the biggest in a century.
Ash from the Colima Volcano, as it is also known, rained down on nearby communities while lava flowed down its flanks, prompting authorities to seal off a 12-kilometer (7.5-mile) area around the crater.
"The communities in this 12-kilometer radius are very small and don't exceed 800 inhabitants. They have all been evacuated," said Luis Felipe Puente, national civil protection coordinator.
Colima's airport was closed to private and commercial flights "due to falling ash in the area," said Governor Mario Anguiano Moreno.
Volcanic activity began to intensify late Thursday, with a four-kilometer column of ash late Friday.
One village at the foot of the mountain, Yerbabuena, was smothered in up to five centimeters (nearly two inches) of ash, authorities said, and rain also tumbled down, adding to the misery.
Ash traveled as far as the city of Colima, where residents wore masks and a thin layer of talc-like material covered streets and cars.
The interior ministry said the volcanic activity was "atypical, presenting conditions similar to those of 1913," when a major eruption took place and covered the region in ash.
The ministry said three scenarios are possible: A gradual waning of activity in coming weeks, a 1913-like explosion or a collapse of the volcano's dome.
But Puente said there was a "drop in volcanic activity" in the afternoon compared to earlier in the day, and that authorities were monitoring the volcano "minute by minute."