Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa declared a state of emergency Saturday over increasing activity in the Cotopaxi volcano near the capital of Quito, and officials evacuated a few hundred people as a precaution.
"We declare a state of emergency due to the unusual activity of Mount Cotopaxi," Correa said during his weekly Saturday address. "God willing, everything will go well and the volcano will not erupt."
The decree gives authorities more flexibility in using government funds to deal with any problems.
Correa said that about 400 people have been voluntarily relocated to shelters after the explosions and expulsion of ash surprised nearby residents on Friday.
Eruptions beginning Friday have shot ash more than two miles into the sky, spreading fine gray powder over roads, homes and cars in the region as far as the capital 30 miles to the north.
Presidential legal secretary Alexis Mera said further ash explosions and some pyroclastic flows on the volcano's western slopes Saturday led officials to evacuate some nearby villages.
Cotopaxi is considered one of the world's most dangerous volcanoes due to a glacial cover that makes it prone to fast-moving volcanic rock and mudflows, known as lahares. The 19,600-foot snow-capped volcano also is close to the heavily populated area around Quito. It last had a major eruption in 1877.
Authorities already had restricted access to the park that surrounds Cotopaxi and suspended ascents of the peak, which is popular with mountaineers.