Schools are closed as Mexico’s Popocatepetl volcano spews ash and gas

SANTIAGO XALITZINTLA, Mexico — Mexico’s Popocatepetl volcano spewed gas, smoke and ash on Monday, prompting education authorities to suspend in-person classes in parts of three states, a day after the government raised the alert level for the volcano’s activity.

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 seen increased activity over the past week. No evacuations were ordered, but authorities were preparing for that scenario and told people to stay outside a 7.5-mile (12-kilometer) radius around the summit.

In Santiago Xalitzintla, one of the communities closest to the crater, alarms and preparations are regular and most people went about their normal business on Monday. Extremely fine ash fell and was visible on the windshields of vehicles.

Job Amalco, a driver said it was normal. “It doesn’t scare us. We are spectators of what nature gives us,” he said proudly.

But anxiety began to rise among some. Florencio de Olarte, 69, and Plácida de Aquino, 72, recalled having to evacuate their home in the center of the city twice years ago. On those occasions, “(the volcano) could be seen lit up and throwing rocks,” Olarte said.

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One of their children already wants them to come to Mexico City, but the couple doesn’t want to leave before the authorities tell them because of their turkeys, pigs and donkeys. “We have animals and we couldn’t leave them,” Aquino said.

“Right now there is a lot of smoke, leaks and thunder, the curtain is shaking,” Aquino said. But nothing more at the moment.

Due to the activity of the volcano, flights were temporarily suspended at the capital’s two airports over the weekend.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Monday that an ash plume stretched hundreds of miles (hundreds of kilometers) to the east and stretched over the Bay of Campeche.

National Civil Defense Coordinator Laura Velázquez said at a press conference on Sunday that the volcano’s stop-light warning system is yellow but has been upgraded to Phase 3. Nevertheless, as he said, “there is no danger to the population at this time. time.”

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During this phase, large domes develop and explode with increasing intensity, sending glowing rock into the air and pyroclasts streaming down its sides.

Velázquez said only three of the volcano’s 565 eruptions since September have been large, and the current activity is not the biggest this century.

The Ministry of Defense said it was ready to activate 6,500 soldiers if necessary. The shelters were being prepared.

About 25 million people live within a 60-mile (100-kilometer) radius, most of them in the Mexico City metropolitan area.

Popocatepetl came to life in 1994 after decades of dormancy, and experienced increased activity from 2000 to 2003 and from 2012 to 2016.