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Alert level raised in central Mexico as volcano belches smoke and ash

An alert level was raised on Sunday for a volcano in central Mexico that was belching ash and smoke, prompting authorities to close schools and public parks and prepare for the possibility of evacuations.

Mexico’s National Disaster Prevention Center said on Sunday the alert level was raised to what is called Phase 3which is on the verge of an evacuation order, for the area around the volcano, Popocatépetl, in the central region of the country.

Laura Velázquez Alzúa, the center’s manager, told a press conference on Sunday that when an alert level is raised to phase 3, it is possible for a volcano to produce mild to moderate explosions that can project rock fragments, cause ash to fall into surrounding areas and disrupt air travel. The expulsion of magma is also possible, says the center.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico said during a Monday press conference morning that he was in contact with federal and local officials about the volcano, adding that it was under constant surveillance.

“We are ready,” Mr. López Obrador said in Spanish.

The disaster prevention center said authorities around Popocatépetl are preparing evacuation teams and shelters, and local and state officials also plan to visit evacuation routes on Monday.

“We have to be absolutely sure that our evacuation routes and signs are correct,” Ms. Velázquez Alzúa said.

Popocatépetl (pronounced poh-poh-kah-TEH-peh-til), sometimes called the god of rain or community heartbeat, was silent for decades before becoming active in the 1990s. In 2000, a major eruption prompted the evacuation of approximately 50,000 people from the area. Since then, light to moderate activity from the volcano has prompted authorities to raise alert levels occasionally.

It was unclear Monday how long this period of increased volcanic activity would continue.

Jessica Ball, a volcanologist with the United States Geological Survey, said it’s normal for active volcanoes, such as Popocatépetl, to go through cycles of increased activity.

“It’s pretty much part of being an active volcano,” she said. “There really is no human-scale cycle that governs which volcanoes erupt when.”

A time-lapse video the center shared on social media on Monday showed the volcano belching smoke and ash in the early morning.

Officials said during a Sunday press conference that the state of Puebla, which includes part of the volcano, had set up 35 shelters that could accommodate up to 22,000 people if evacuations were needed.

Puebla state officials also said on Sunday that, to minimize the risk of exposure to ash fall, several public parks in the area would be closed and schools would be holding classes virtually for the time being.

The National Center for Disaster Reduction has urged residents who live near the volcano to avoid going outdoors as much as possible. Those who go outside must wear a face mask or cover their nose and mouth with a tissue, the center said.

In areas where ashes were accumulating, the center said residents should cover water tanks to prevent contamination, sweep up the ashes and collect them in bags.

The volcano’s alert level was raised a day after Popocatépetl dropped ash from the sky, causing the temporary closure on Saturday of the two main airports serving Mexico City, about 55 miles northeast of the volcano.

Volcanic ash is particularly dangerous for airplanes, according to the USGS. Ash fall can interfere with aircraft radio transmission and navigation systems, clog fuel nozzles and create unsafe runway conditions that can lead to braking problems.

nytimes Gt

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