February 3, 2002

Mexico residents prepare for volcano evacuation

LA BECERRERA, Mexico (AP) --Army troops stood ready to evacuate
hundreds of residents from towns on the flanks of Mexico's most active volcano
Sunday as scientists said building pressure signaled an imminent eruption of the
12,533-foot (3,820-meter) "Volcano of Fire."

During the last several days smoke, ash and vapor have been spewing from the
crater of the volcano in western Colima state.

Scientists said that within days or weeks, a huge dome of lava developing inside the
crater would either collapse, sending hot rivers of lava and rock down the peak's
southern flanks, or explode, launching rock and ash into the surrounding area.

Internal explosions in the volcano in 1999 sent lava flowing three miles (five
kilometers) down the slopes, forcing the evacuation of nearly 500 people from 11

Residents are always barred from going within four miles (6.5 kilometers) of the
volcano. Since the lava dome has begun to expand, civil protection authorities are
blocking anyone who doesn't live in the area from going any closer than seven miles
(11.5 kilometers).

White plumes of smoke curled skyward from the crater Sunday, a sign that pressure
was escaping. Area vulcanologists said seismic activity remained at stable,
non-threatening levels.

Soldiers guarded the perimeters of the danger zone and manned the streets of area
towns in case of an evacuation, and some coffee workers were unable to work in
fields located within prohibited areas.

But it was a quiet Sunday for residents in the small villages of Yerbabuena and La
Becerrera, located five and six miles (eight and 10 kilometers), respectively, from the

Cattle grazed in the shadow of the smoking colossus and machete-wielding workers
cut fields of sugarcane, while townspeople attended Mass, swept the sidewalks or
chatted with neighbors on the sun-dappled streets.

"I've lived here all my life and I don't feel like there's any danger," said 40-year-old
Daniel Viscaino, a farmer, taxi driver and musician from La Becerrera, a town of
500 people.

"As long as the smoke is coming out like that nothing's going to happen. Besides, it's
nature. No one but God can really say when our time is up."

Alvaro Lepe, 52, owns 100 hectares (250 acres) of sugar cane, pasture and coffee
fields in Yerbabuena, a hamlet of about 200 people. He said he's been keeping an eye
on the volcano for 20 years.

"While it has changed, in no moment has it been as scary as they say," he said,
nodding his straw-hatted head toward the volcano's peak as 30 workers labored in
the cane field behind him.

"Nature is very unpredictable," he said, adding that if there were a strong eruption
"you'd see both animals and people running for their lives."

Vulcanologists consider the Colima volcano to be the most active and potentially the
most destructive of nine volcanoes located across the middle of Mexico. It has
staged violent eruptions dozens of times since its first recorded eruption in 1560.

About 300,000 people live within 25 miles (40 kilometers) of the volcano, and
Colima city, the state capital, is within 20 miles (30 kilometers).

But researchers say, in recent times, lava has never descended below 6,500 feet
(1,980 meters), well above the altitude of the current villages.

Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.