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El Salvador's Chaparrastique volcano erupts for first time in 37 years

By Nelson Quiñones and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
December 29, 2013 -- Updated 2340 GMT (0740 HKT)
View of the Chaparrastique volcano spewing ashes and smoke in southern El Salvador on December 29.
View of the Chaparrastique volcano spewing ashes and smoke in southern El Salvador on December 29.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Avianca announces the cancellation of 33 flights into and out of the country
  • NEW: El Salvador's president says authorities don't know if the volcano will erupt again
  • Chaparrastique sent a plume of gas and ash about 3 miles high, environmental ministry says
  • Some flights to San Salvador, the capital, were redirected to other airports to avoid the ash

(CNN) -- El Salvador's Chaparrastique volcano erupted Sunday, sending a dark cloud of ash miles into the sky, forcing thousands to evacuate from their homes and snarling travel in the Central American country as airlines canceled flights.

"We are not certain there will be new eruptions, but we can't rule out that possibility either," President Mauricio Funes said in a televised address urging residents near the volcano in the department of San Miguel to leave their homes and head to shelters.

According to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, the eruption began at 10:30 a.m. and produced a column of gas and ash approximately 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) high.

Authorities warned residents not to approach the area near the volcano, which is located in eastern El Salvador.

The international airport in San Salvador, the capital, redirected some flights to other airports, including in Guatemala, to avoid the ash.

Avianca airlines announced Sunday night that it had canceled 33 flights scheduled to arrive and depart from El Salvador as a precautionary measure due to the ash cloud. Iberia and United Airlines also canceled flights that had been scheduled to arrive in San Salvador Sunday night.

This is the first eruption of Chaparrastique in 37 years.

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