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Thousands flee erupting Colombian volcano

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  • Darkness makes it difficult to gauge seriousness of latest eruption
  • Highest active volcano in Colombia erupts, forcing thousands to flee
  • Officials worried about possible avalanches, mud flows and rising river levels
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BOGOTA, Colombia (CNN) -- The highest active volcano in Colombia erupted Monday night, prompting authorities to order the evacuation of up to 15,000 people.

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An eruption of Colombia's Nevado del Huila volcano last year caused damaging mudslides.

The Nevado del Huila volcano erupted at 11:08 p.m. Monday (12:08 a.m. Tuesday ET), according to the Colombian Institute of Geology and Mining.

Officials urged 13,000 to 15,000 people to evacuate, according to Caracol Radio, a radio station.

There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries. Video See an aerial view of the eruption »

The eruption amounted to a "Level Red" -- the institute's most severe designation for volcanoes -- but authorities told Caracol Radio that darkness made it difficult to gauge precisely what had happened.

Monitoring equipment confirmed an eruption, but authorities do not know whether it has produced a column of smoke or spilled lava, Marta Cavache, an official with the Colombian Institute of Geology and Mining, told the radio station.

Authorities warned of possible avalanches and urged local officials to monitor the volume of rivers near the volcano, Caracol reported.

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Nevado del Huila, about 155 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of Bogota, has a summit of 17,598 feet (5,364 meters). See a map of the volcano's location »

Its first documented eruption occurred in the 16th century. It stood silent for more than 400 years, releasing only columns of steam, until an eruption last year that caused damaging mud flows, according to the Smithsonian Institution's Global Volcanism Program. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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