The Tungurahua volcano throws ash and molten rock just before midnight Friday. ((Dolores Ochoa/Associated Press))

Two huge volcanoes in Central and South America are spewing lava, rocks and debris, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes.

A volcano known as Tungurahua — Throat of Fire — came to life Friday morning, 130 kilometres southeast of Ecuador's capital, Quito, and exploded continuously through the night.

People in several nearby villages were forced to leave their homes, while officials shut down the international airport in the city of Guayaquil. Air travel between Quito and Lima, Peru, was also suspended because of ash from the volcano.

Officials in Ecuador are worried about a possible repeat of events in the summer of 2006, when weeks of volcanic activity culminated in an eruption that destroyed three villages and killed at least seven people.

2 killed in Guatemala

Guatemala's Pacaya volcano, 50 kilometres south of Guatemala City, began erupting Thursday afternoon. At least two people, including a television reporter, have been killed. Dozens more have been injured by lava and falling rocks.

La Aurora International Airport in the capital was expected to remain closed for part of Saturday because of ash covering the runways.

The ash billowing from Pacaya has been thick, falling quickly to the ground, unlike the light ash that spewed from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland and swept over much of Europe, disrupting global air travel, said Gustavo Chigna, a volcano expert with Guatemala's institute of seismology.

In Ecuador, the ash cloud drifted out over the Pacific Ocean and was tapering off Friday evening.

Sandro Vaca, an expert at Ecuador's National Geophysics Institute, said Tungurahua's latest eruption was not in the same league as the Icelandic activity.

"The ash stretched for hundreds of kilometres, while the plume of ash from the volcano in Iceland covered nearly all of Europe for thousands of kilometres," Vaca said.

With files from The Associated Press