UBINAS, Peru, Apr 21 (Reuters) A volcano in southern Peru threw plumes of smoke high into the sky prompting authorities to declare an ''orange alert'' to encourage villagers to evacuate the area.
Most farming families who live on the slopes of the Ubinas volcano had resisted calls to leave their homes since it rumbled back to life about two weeks ago, even though many have reported breathing problems and poisoned livestock.
''Ashes fell all over the place ... in my home, even in my bed.
Now my throat, my head and my eyes hurt,'' resident Benita Mamani said of the volcano's more violent activity earlier this week.
Ubinas, located in the Moquegua region some 900 km (550 miles) south of Lima, has been belching smoke and ashes sporadically for most of the month after nearly four decades of inactivity. Small tremors have also been felt in nearby towns.
An explosion earlier yesterday sent gases high into the sky, forming a gigantic mushroom-shaped cloud the stretched more than half a mile (1 km) above the earth.
''The cows and the lambs don't want to eat,'' said Lucia Condori, 47, who lives in the village of Querapi, some 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) south of the volcano. Most residents of the Andean region are poor and live off the land.
Livestock have been poisoned by eating grass coated with volcanic ash and 20 llamas have died.
Emergency officials met yesterday to consider whether to force the evacuation of the village's 160 or so people, who do not want to move unless they can take their livestock.
''They've told us we've got to learn to live with the volcano and the ash, but we'd never seen anything like this,'' said peasant farmer Adon Castro. ''We're terrified.'' The Ubinas volcano is one of the most active in Peru. It erupted 17 times from 1550 until 1969, when it was last active.
REUTERS SC PM0625