A volcano in Mexico City has sputtered to life, putting the capital’s residents on high alert
PHOTO: Authorities have raised the alert level around the volcano to five on a seven-point scale. (Imelda Medina / Reuters)
MAP: The volcano threatens Mexico City and thousands of people living in nearby farming villages.
A volcano in central Mexico has been rattling local residents for more than a week. Popocatépetl (pronounced poh-poh-kah-TEH-peh-til), North America’s second-largest volcano, began spewing ash, steam, and red-hot rock fragments on April 13. Mexican authorities have prepared emergency evacuation plans in case of a major eruption. Several schools have closed, and emergency shelters are being prepared.
Nicknamed Popo, the 17,887-foot volcano is about 40 miles east of Mexico’s capital, Mexico City. If a larger eruption occurs, tens of thousands of people in the farming villages closest to the volcano could be forced to flee. Huge quantities of ash could cover Mexico City, one of the world's most populated metropolitan areas. This would cause major problems for the city's busy airport, because planes cannot fly in skies full of ash.
Mexico’s National Disaster and Prevention Center has set the alert level around the volcano to a five on a seven-point scale. Experts have no way of knowing what the volcano will do, and they say it could be weeks or months before the volcanic activity eases.
Like all volcanoes, Popo is an opening in the Earth’s surface. Magma, or hot, melted rock from deep underground, collects beneath this opening. During an eruption, the melted rock, ash, and gases gush out of the volcano.
The name Popocatépetl means "smoking mountain" in the indigenous Nahuatl language. The mountain lives up to its name. Popo has had small eruptions of ash almost daily since 1994. The current rumbling, though, is a new level of activity. Similar movements haven’t been seen in more than 10 years. In 2000, a major eruption of Popocatépetl forced the evacuation of about 50,000 nearby residents.