Snow-capped Cotopaxi volcano spews ash south of Ecuador's capital

A 2-mile-high (5-kilometer-high) plume of ash shot out of the Cotopaxi volcano near Ecuador's capital Friday in two pre-dawn blasts, coating highways, homes and cars with a fine gray powder.

Government scientists said the 5,987-meter (19,600-foot) snow-capped volcano doesn't seem to be on the verge of a major eruption.

Authorities nevertheless restricted access to the park that surrounds Cotopaxi and suspended ascents of the peak, which is popular with mountaineers.

Patricio Ramon of Ecuador's geophysics institute told Teleamazonas TV that the explosions were small phreatic eruptions, which occur when molten rock, or magma, meets water and produces a violent steam release.

"The situation merits the population staying informed about what's happening with the volcano," said Ramon.

The volcano is 30 miles (50 kilometers) from Quito. It began showing renewed activity in April. Its last major eruption was in 1877.

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 mud flows, or lahares, and its proximity to a heavily populated area.