Latacungua: Ecuador's president Rafael Correa said Saturday he will declare a state of emergency as the Cotopaxi volcano rumbled to life and prompted evacuation orders in several villages threatened by landslides.
Cotopaxi volcano started to stir Friday, registering several small eruptions and angrily shooting plumes of dust and ash eight kilometers (five miles) into the sky.
By declaring a state of emergency -- also called a state of exception in Ecuador -- the president can access resources and deploy military personnel to aid communities affected by the volcano's activity.
"We will declare a state of emergency based on the activity of the Cotopaxi volcano. Why have I made that decision? To secure resources... To address a potential emergency and mobilize the necessary resources," Correa said in his weekly address.
Earlier, officials ordered what they called precautionary evacuations in villages near the volcano, warning residents of potential landslides of volcanic debris, or lahars.
Residents in towns and river settlements in Cotopaxi province, some 45 kilometers south of the capital Quito, were told to clear out, said Pablo Morillo, head of the Secretariat for Risk Management.
Officials did not specify how many people could be affected by the evacuation order.
In the city of Latacunga, home to about 170,000 people, sirens sounded as residents frantically fled, packing food, water and pets into cars that quickly clogged the roads.
"I was driving near the Cutuchi River and police came out with sirens, alerting us, and moving from house to house to draw people out. The sirens distressed us," one woman told AFP, without providing her name.
Soldiers could be seen in the streets of Latacunga on Saturday, along with cars carrying mattresses, motorcycles and other household items.
Authorities maintained a yellow alert in the region, a mid-range warning, and said it would remain as long as Cotopaxi continued to stir.
"We will maintain the same alert, but since there are still no lahar flows, the evacuation order is still only preventive," Morillo told AFP.
The volcano, which towers to 5,897 meters high (19,000 feet), is considered to be one of the most threatening in the region -- both because of its size and because it is so close to well-populated towns.