Concerns over Mexico’s Popocatepetl volcano shift with the wind

AMECAMECA, Mexico — Concerns about the Popocatepetl volcano are changing with the wind. While to the east of the mountain residents swept the streets and did not remove their masks on Tuesday, here to the west they casually watched the plume of gas and ash emerging from its crater.

The 17,797-foot (5,425-meter) mountain just 45 miles (about 70 kilometers) southeast of Mexico City and known affectionately as “El Popo” has been belching for days, dotting cities and crops from Puebla in a super fine ash.

“When nothing happens, we worry,” said a cheery Viridiana Alba, who has been selling flowers in Amecameca’s central plaza for 25 years. “El Popo”, as the volcano is affectionately nicknamed, rises right in front of its stand.

“We know that right now it’s giving off smoke, which releases the energy it contains,” she said. Ash is still resting on the canopy that protects her plants from when the wind blew over her last weekend. The town has been rocked by tremors from the volcano, but as long as the ash stays light, she thinks it will help her plants.

The winds blew a large ash plume eastward over the states of Puebla and Veracruz and possibly the Bay of Campeche and beyond.

Mexico’s National Center for Disaster Prevention said in its report on Tuesday that small lava domes continued to form inside the crater, which were then destroyed by small and moderate explosions. He said people living in communities near the volcano would likely continue these explosions over the next few days and weeks.

Three days ago, “my house shook almost all night, it was unbelievable,” said Arturo Benítez, a former local official. “The sound of the volcano was loud, it sounded like a burning boiler and a lot of ash fell, but suddenly from this side it quieted down.”

It was Sunday when the authorities raised the alert level, while maintaining that there is no current risk for the population.

No evacuations were ordered, but authorities mapped out evacuation routes, prepared shelters and conducted simulation exercises.

At Amecameca, police distributed pamphlets with advice on how to prepare in case the volcano’s activity increases. The leaflet recommended having important documents, a full gas tank, masks and towels on hand for hydration if residents had to leave in a hurry.

Most locals already know this, especially those who remember a 1997 eruption that “darkened the sky, thundered…and a muddy rain fell,” Benítez said.

“The pyroclastic cloud arrived at Amecameca and it was chaos, everyone wanted to leave then and it was huge,” he said.

The only time Popocatepetl raised a red alert on the government’s red light-style system since emerging from decades of dormancy in 1994 was in 2000. The volcano’s last major eruption was more than 1,000 years ago.

Activity this time has so far not been significant to locals, but localized impacts could be real for locals on one side of the volcano while everything is normal on the other.

Benítez, who years ago worked as a photographer with federal authorities monitoring the volcano, said he thought the coverage in recent days had been a bit overdone. “It’s not that bad, unless they know something that we don’t, because the activity has gone down.”

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador also downplayed the situation on Tuesday.

“We will monitor and if there is anything we will inform,” he said. “But we think there will be no problem.”


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