Concerns about Mexico’s Popocatepetl volcano are changing due to wind

AMECAMECA, Mexico — Concerns about the Popocatepetl volcano change with the wind. While in the eastern part of the mountains residents swept the streets and did not take off their masks on Tuesday, here in the west they were casually watching the plume of gas and ash erupting from the crater.

Located just 45 miles (about 70 kilometers) southeast of Mexico City, the 17,797-foot (5,425-meter) mountain affectionately known as “El Popo” has been belching for days, dusting the towns and crops of Puebla in superfine ash.

“If nothing happens, we worry,” said a cheerful Viridiana Alba, who has been selling flowers in Amecameca’s central square for 25 years. “El Popo,” as the volcano is affectionately known, rises directly opposite its stand.

“We know that right now it’s emitting smoke, which is releasing the energy inside it,” he said. Ash is still lying on the awning that shaded his plants last weekend when the wind blew it over. The town was rocked by the volcano’s tremors, but as long as the ash remains light, he believes it will help his plants.

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Winds blew a huge plume of ash eastward over the states of Puebla and Veracruz, and eventually into the Bay of Campeche and beyond.

Mexico’s National Disaster Prevention Center said in a report on Tuesday that small lava domes continued to form inside the crater, which were then destroyed by small and moderate explosions. It advised that people living in communities near the volcano are likely to continue to experience eruptions in the coming days and weeks.

Three days ago, “my house was shaking almost all night, it was amazing,” said Arturo Benítez, a former local official. “The sound of the volcano was loud, like a cauldron being lit, and a lot of ash fell, but then suddenly it sat on its side.”

That was Sunday when authorities raised the alert level, while maintaining that the public is not currently in danger.

No evacuations were ordered, but authorities did lead evacuation routes, prepared some shelters and conducted simulation exercises.

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In Amecameca, police handed out pamphlets giving tips on how to prepare in case the volcano’s activity increases. The booklet suggested keeping important documents on hand, a full tank of gas, masks and towels to moisten if residents needed to leave in a hurry.

Most residents already know, especially those who remember a 1997 eruption that “darkened the sky, thundered … and rained mud,” Benítez said.

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

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

The action this time was not significant for the locals, but the local effects can be real for people living on one side of the volcano while everything is normal on the other side.

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Benítez, who years ago worked as a photographer for federal authorities monitoring the volcano, said he thinks the coverage in recent days has been somewhat exaggerated. “It’s not that bad, unless they know something we don’t because the activity is down.”

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

“We’ll keep an eye on it and let you know if anything happens,” he said. “But we feel there won’t be a problem.”