The Miami Herald
December 19, 2000

Mexicans heed volcano's rumbles

Residents of towns near `Popo' had ignored official pleas to flee

 Associated Press

 SAN ANDRES CALPAN, Mexico -- After two days of ignoring officials' pleas to
 flee the area around the rumbling Popocatepetl volcano, some residents of small
 towns at the volcano's base began rethinking their decision Monday -- and started

 Since Saturday, officials have been urging some 40,000 people who live within six
 miles of the volcano to leave the area. Most have disregarded the pleas, preferring
 to stay behind to guard their belongings and livestock.

 But Popocatepetl's overnight noises prompted some locals to pack their cars
 Monday, afraid that a stronger eruption was brewing.

 ``They already told us to leave, but we didn't believe them -- until last night. Now
 we are scared,'' said Javier Hernández, 71, huddled about a fire with five other
 men. Six female relatives slept under blankets in the back of a nearby pickup.

 ``We didn't sleep at all last night,'' he said. ``It was thundering loudly.''

 About 10,000 people have already fled, and buses were parked along roadsides
 waiting to shuttle more to shelters in safe areas. Interior Minister Santiago Creel,
 who reportedly had said authorities might forcibly move people, said Monday
 there would be no forced evacuation.

 ``We can't make anybody leave their home and go to a shelter,'' he said.

 Scientists have warned that a dome of lava at the base of the 17,886-foot
 Popocatepetl is causing pressure to build inside the mountain. That could trigger
 a strong eruption, throwing rocks and other debris for miles.

 ``It's like a pressure cooker,'' Creel said. ``It could lead to a situation the likes of
 which we've never seen.''

 The volcano, locally known as ``Popo'' or ``Don Goyo,'' sits 40 miles southeast of
 Mexico City.

 A major eruption is unlikely to more than dust the metropolitan area's 20 million
 residents with ash. But some airlines have canceled flights to Mexico City for fear
 that ash already thrown up by the volcano may damage their engines.

 At higher risk are the small communities dotting the volcano's base. Yet many
 people have refused to leave, not trusting the army to guard their belongings.

 Officials have tried to allay such fears, noting there have been almost no reports of
 robberies and announcing they would set up community corrals to care for
 animals left behind.