Mexico's Popocatepetl spews ash miles into the air

 Popocatépetl volcano (archive photo) By CEDRIC DE ALICOQUE

Mexico's Popocatépetl volcano surprised observers with a startling sight Friday: a massive column of ash billowing in the air.

An explosion sent steam, gas and ash 5 km (3.1 miles) above the volcano's crater, officials said. Luis Felipe Puente, Mexico's director of civil protection, shared photos and videos on social media of the plume spreading through the sky.

Authorities warned people to stay away from the volcano, particularly its crater. It's likely ash will fall in nearby towns, officials said. Already, ash has fallen in two municipalities in Puebla state, Felipe said.

The volcano erupted in April, spewing smoke, ash and lava.

Popocatépetl is one of an estimated 1,500 potentially active volcanoes.

The volcano, which is located about 70 km (43 miles) southeast of Mexico City, had been dormant for decades until its eruption in 1994. Since then, its rumblings have become a party of daily life for are residents.

"People in the city get afraid. The fear does not exist here," José Cortés Agustín told CNNMexico in 2013. "He (the volcano) would not hurt us. He gives us beautiful images that there's no reason to fear."

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