Soldiers and disaster workers in Mexico City are reviewing evacuation procedures after Popocateptl, which is located 40 miles southeast of the city, erupted 200 times on Tuesday, breaking its 1996 record of 180 eruptions in a single day. Officials issued a state of alert after the volcano began to spew ash early that morning. The first tremor lasted over an hour.
Residents of Mexico City have been warned to stay at least six miles away from the volcano. So far, no ash has fallen on populated areas.
“Popo” has threatened the 24 million residents of the world?s 2nd largest city in the past. Like the long-awaited major earthquake that has been predicted for Los Angeles, it?s only a matter of time.
The volcano’s last major eruption was in the 9th Century AD, but it was so powerful that it devastated the entire area. Were Popo to erupt that violently again, millions of people in the Mexico City area would be killed.
How serious Popo’s situation is has been a matter for debate since 1994, when the present restless period started. Popo was last active in the 1920s, but it has been far more active in recent years than it was then. The volcano, the name of which in the indigenous Nauhatl language means ‘smoking mountain’ has a history of lengthy restless periods punctuated by few, but very powerful, eruptions.
In 1997 Carlos Valdes, of the Autonomous National University of Mexico in the capital, explained that “A volcano is like a pressure cooker. If the valve works well, the pressure will build up and be released regularly. Right now Popo’s valve seems to be working fine.” Stanley Williams of Arizona State University in Tempe, call Popo’s pent-up pressures a “crisis” waiting to happen.
Since then, many of the lava tubes crucial to releasing pressure from inside the volcano have closed, and ejections of gas and smoke have become weaker, even though the amount of internal activity is rising. This means that the explosive potential of the volcano is increasing.
North American news media generally downplayed the story, and did not mention the sudden increase in eruptions, or the fact that such a dramatic increase in eruptions that are not accompanied by significant releases of gas and ash are a cause for concern.
For an accurate news story on the current eruption, click here.
To read one that probably misstates the situation, click here.
To watch Popo during daylight hours via live webcam, click here, then click on “tamano A.” on the CENAPRED website.
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