December 14, 2000

Mexican volcano spouts thick gas, ash column

                  MEXICO CITY, Mexico (Reuters) -- Mexico's Popocatepetl volcano, 40 miles
                  east of Mexico City, spewed Thursday plumes of smoke, gas and ash up to a
                  50-mile radius in a new phase of heightened activity, officials said.

                  "The plume is not that big vertically -- probably around 3 km (1.9 miles) but
                  horizontally it stretches pretty far," Jorge Diaz, a geologist at the National Center
                  for Disaster Prevention (Cenapred), told Reuters.

                  Melchiades Morales, governor of Puebla state in which Popocatepetl is located,
                  said some residents of Santiago Xalitzintla, the village nearest the volcano may be
                  evacuated but there was no large scale evacuation plan for people living in the

                  A light rain of ash had fallen on communities near the volcano, known as "The
                  Smoking Mountain" in the indigenous Nahuatl language.

                  Popocatepetl, which is 17,884 feet high, has picked up activity in the past couple
                  of months.

                  Diaz said the volcano's most intense period of activity in this phase occurred at
                  8:45 p.m. on Wednesday.

                  Cervardo de la Cruz, a scientist at the geophysics institute at the capital's
                  National Autonomous University of Mexico, told local radio that the volcano's
                  rate of activity was fairly constant, but seemed to be increasing regularly rather
                  than declining.

                  Authorities decided on November 3 to expand the radius of security around the
                  crater to 6.2 miles from 4.3 miles.

                  Popocatepetl, active for the past six years, in 1997 spewed ash 11.2 miles into
                  the sky, causing eye irritation and respiratory problems among thousands living

                     Copyright 2000 Reuters.