Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Stirring Giant: Mexico's Popocatepetl Volcano Has Country on Alert

Authorities in Mexico raised the alert level for the Popocatepetl volcano near  Mexico City on Monday after it started spewing red-hot fragments of rock and clouds of dust and ash high into the atmosphere.

Officials are so uneasy about the rumblings of the now-glowing Popocatepetl volcano that nearby schools have been shut down and tourists and adventure-seekers are being warned to stay away. The lava dome of Popocatepetl, some 50 miles to the southeast of the capital city, started to expand on Friday, Mexico's National Center for Disaster Prevention said.

The sudden change in activity in the 5,450 meter (17,900 foot) volcano could provoke large explosions capable of sending dangerous, incandescent fragments out over considerable distances, as well as intense ash showers, the center said in a statement. The volcano, along with its "twin" volcano Iztaccíhuatl, can be seen by Mexico City's 25 million residents on a clear day.

The Center for Disaster Prevention raised the alert level to yellow phase three from yellow phase two, indicating possible magma expulsion and explosions of increasing intensity. It is the third-highest warning on the center's seven-step scale. Emergency services should ready evacuation teams and shelters, limit access to the area around the volcano and alert air-traffic control systems, the center said in an official statement.

The startling increase in activity at the volcano comes a week after a series of earthquakes rattled the country, including a 7.0 tremor that swayed skyscrapers in Mexico City and caused people to flee in panic into the streets. 

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