San Antonio Express-News – For the past week, Popocatepetl, the volcano 35 miles from Mexico City, has been emitting dark clouds of steam and ash. On Thursday, Popo threw ash over a 50 mile radius and sent out incandescent fragments that rolled down its slopes. Some international airlines cancelled flights to Mexico City for the second straight day because of ash falling over the area. On Friday, 14,000 people who live within 20 miles of the volcano were ordered to evacuate after the fiery crater spit out gas, vapor and ash for the fourth straight day. Buses were sent to take them to shelters a safe distance away. Many of them had been wearing medical masks on their faces when they went outside to avoid inhaling the ash.

Officials are setting up 200 refugee shelters around Tlaxcala, a city that lies between Mexico City and Popo, in preparation for a larger evacuation. But critics say that many of the escape routes have not been maintained, and could not handle the flood of traffic if an eruption occurred.

The last time Popo became this active was in 1994, when thousands of people were evacuated from two dozen nearby towns. That proved to be a false alarm. The volcano threatened to erupt again in 1997, but again nothing happened. However, many Mexicans believe it?s only a matter of time before it goes off.

Scientists believe that the last time Popo blew hot lava was about 5,000 years ago. Since April 29, 1996, volcanologists have observed a small lava cone developing in the crater?s bottom, an indication of serious developments beneath the surface.

Officials fear it will start spewing lava soon. The Mexican National Center for Disaster Prevention said earthquake detectors have recorded more tremors within the volcano. This generally indicates the movement of magma.

Meanwhile, people in Mexico City are trying to live life as usual, which is made easier by the fact that the volcano usually can?t be seen, due to the heavy air pollution.

Source: San Antonio Express-News

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