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Mexicans brace for mudslides, volcanic eruptions

The Popocatepetl volcano spews lava and ash early Wednesday morning near Xalizintla, Mexico  

reporter On the scene with
Harris Whitbeck: Thousands seek shelter as volcano rumbles

In this story:

Eruptions an omen?

Festivities continue

MEXICO CITY, Mexico (Reuters) -- Mexican authorities put some regions on high alert for possible mudslides on Wednesday as the snowcapped Popocatepetl volcano southeast of Mexico City continued to hurl molten rocks into the sky, with further eruptions possible in the next 24 hours.

Some 30,000 residents from 18 surrounding villages were evacuated from their homes on Tuesday, seeking refuge in 180 makeshift shelters, Eco television reported.

Images from an infrared camera broadcast by Televisa showed the volcano continuing to throw a shower of rocks into the sky, accompanied by leaping flames. Popocatepetl (pronounced poh-poh-kah-TEH-peh-til) lies on the border of central Puebla, Mexico and Morelos states, 42 miles (60 km) from Mexico City.

Mexican authorities, fearing that a roughly 3,000-foot-long (1,000-meters-long) glacier on the volcano's western face could become dislodged by molten rock and cause massive mudslides, have expanded an emergency zone to 12.5 miles (20 km) from 7.5 miles (12 km).

graphic Images of Mexico's erupting Popocatepetl volcano
CNN's Harris Whitbeck reports the eruption has caused thousands to flee (December 20)

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Daytime video of the volcano spewing smoke (December 19)

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"We are on maximum alert ... because we have to be ready for any possible contingency regarding the glacier," Interior Minister Santiago Creel told a news conference on Tuesday.

In a later briefing, Creel said the volcano was spouting rocks two miles (3.2 km) into the sky but without any lava spillage for the time being and that people outside the restricted zone were safe.

So far, seven flights to Mexico City have been canceled by United Airlines for safety reasons, as well as two local flights to Puebla city, where the airport is closed. Some 55 airlines were still operating normally, according to national television.

Mexican President Vicente Fox, in an interview with Televisa news on Tuesday night, urged the population to remain calm, saying no one was in immediate danger and that the 30,000 evacuees were well-attended by emergency services and the army.

"Blankets, drinking water, mattresses for everyone are guaranteed," said Fox.

The government would try to secure work for evacuees to ensure they were not losing income during their displacement and books for children, he added.

Creel said another 18,000 people living in Puebla, Mexico and Morelos near Popocatepetl would have to leave their homes.

Flaming rock burst from the 17,884-foot (5,451-metre) high volcano at 2 a.m. (0800 GMT) on Tuesday -- the second eruption in a few hours in what was the volcano's most violent activity for decades -- perhaps centuries. The rest of the day the volcano was stable, with activity intensifying in the night.

The Popocatepetl volcano early on Tuesday morning  

Eruptions an omen?

Superstitious Mexicans fear the eruptions could be an apocalyptic omen. The volcano's latest phase of activity began in 1994 as former president Ernesto Zedillo took office and preceded a disastrous peso devaluation that plunged the economy into recession, from which it is only now recovering.

In response to the concerns, Onemismo Cepeda, bishop of Ecatepec in Mexico state, reassured believers on television.

"As for the world ending, no one knows when that will be. ... The only person who does is the Father. And don't you worry about yourselves. The world will end the day you die," he said.

The volcano, known in indigenous Nahuatl language as "smoking mountain" and revered as a divinity by local communities before the 1521 Spanish Conquest, was inactive between 1927 and 1994. Since then it has been increasingly active, sending up smoke and ash plumes.

Festivities continue

Some local residents living in the folds of the mountain preferred to stay in their homes and risk possible mudslides.

In Santiago Xalitzintla, just 7.5 miles (12 km) from the crater, the Sandoval family of nine defiantly attended a "posada," or traditional Roman Catholic pre-Christmas dinner, on Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, local civic organizations arranged for clowns to entertain and distract children in the shelters.

"I came with my mother and my sisters. The volcano scared us, it was throwing up fire," said Daniel, 10, whose family reluctantly moved to a shelter on Tuesday night.

Residents living near the volcano were ordered to abandon their homes on Friday but many refused, agreeing to be evacuated only after the latest eruptions. Some men were allowed to return home temporarily to check on their livestock and houses.

Fox said evacuees would not have to miss out on Christmas, even if they were still not back in their homes by Christmas Eve.

"If we reach Christmas, which is probable since this situation doesn't look like ending soon, we'll have to arrange for Santa Claus to arrive at the shelters," Fox said.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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USGS/Cascades Volcano Observatory - Popocatepetl Volcano, Mexico
Southwest Volcano Research Centre
Volcano Database: 1,500 Volcano Links
Popo the Great: A volcano of Mexico
National Center for the disaster prevention with WebCam of Volcano (In Spanish)
Volcano Adventures

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