25,000 Evacuated as Mexican Volcano Erupts

By Susana Guzman

MEXICO CITY, Mexico, December 19, 2000 (ENS) - One person has died and more than 25,000 people have been evacuated from the states of Puebla, Estado de México and Morelos after the Popocatepetl volcano erupted on Monday night and at dawn on Tuesday.

In the Nahuatl language, Popocatepetl means mountain that smokes. Most often called "Popo," the mountain is located 65 kilometers (40 miles) from Mexico City in the state of Puebla. This eruption threw out incandescent material for 1.5 kilometers around.


The eruption of Popocatepetl Monday night (Photo courtesy CENAPRED)
Many people did not want to leave their homes because they were afraid of robbery. Still, most accepted the help of the Mexican Army which used more than 1,000 trucks for the evacuation of 22 settlements affected by ashes and the risk of incandescent material falling on their homes.

Early Tuesday, Secretary of Interior Santiago Creel announced that there are 140 shelters with 163 tons of food in Puebla, Estado de México, Morelos and Tlaxcala.

In Mexico City no falling ash has been reported. Claudia Shenbaunm, secretary of the environment in Distrito Federal, said that the pollution levels have not increased yet because the winds have been blowing from north to south. However, she said that if the wind direction changes it would be possible to have a light rain of ashes in Mexico City.

Last night, President Vicente Fox said that the Secretary of Development is making 2.5 million pesos available for evacuated people. In addition, the government could announce during the next few hours that the states affected by Popo are disaster areas in order to release more funds for the emergency.


Crater of Popocatepetl(Photo courtesy Fotographias Tomadas for D.G.C.F.S.C.T.)
Since December 12 Popocatepetl has exhibited unusual activity. The mouth of its crater has grown four times its previous size, according to CENAPRED, the National Center of Disaster Prevention.

"In 1997 Popo had a dome formed by volcanic rock or lava over six million cubic meters which grew during one year. The current dome has almost 14 million cubic meters of lava, but it emerged during only 19 hours," said Oscar Navarro, coordinator of civil protection.

In its most recent report tonight CENAPRED said that Popo's activity is stable, but the agency has staff on permanent observation.

Standing at a height of 5,452 meters (17,883 feet), Popo has exhibited a growing amount of activity since 1993. In 1994, Popo threw a huge plume of ash for the first time in 70 years.