Image: Ash spews from the Tunguarahua volcano  near Cotalo, Ecuador
Soledad Contreras  /  EPA
Ash and molten lava spew from the Tunguarahua volcano Tuesday in this photo taken near the town of Cotalo, Ecuador.
updated 4/26/2011 8:54:00 PM ET 2011-04-27T00:54:00

Ecuador has suspended school in four towns near the Tunguarahua volcano as ash spews 2.5 miles into the sky, damaging crops and endangering the health of nearby residents.

Authorities are urging people to cover their mouths and noses with masks and shut windows amid the furious venting of Tunguarahua that began Monday.

The state Geophysical Institute said Tuesday that lava is flowing from the summit caldera down the flanks of the 16,480-foot peak. The volcano is 85 miles southeast of Quito.

The Education Ministry says classes in the nearby towns will be suspended at least through Wednesday.

Tunguarahua has been active since 1999. Its eruptions killed at least four people in 2006.

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