Updated January 12, 2008
A week ago last Saturday, Mexico's Popocatepetl volcano spewed a cloud of ash and steam five miles high into the skies southeast of Mexico City (photo at google.com). But officials reassured nearby residents that there was no immediate danger.
The volcano went from dormant to active status in 1994 and staged its most violent eruption in over a thousand years on December 18, 2000 (see below). The 17,886-foot volcano is about 40 miles from the nation's capital. A 7.5-mile area surrounding the peak has been cordoned off by the Mexican army since 1994.
On May 29, 2004, Popocatepetl spewed nine plumes of ash and steam. The Mexican National Disaster Prevention Center declared that there was no danger to nearby populations.
In April, 2002, Popocatepetl emitted 35 small clouds of vapor, gas and ash in one 24-hour period. Low-level seismic activity was recorded owing to the formation of a dome of lava at the base of the volcano's crater.
On December 19, 2001, Popocatepetl shot out red-hot rock and a 1.5-mile tower of ash almost exactly a year after its most violent eruption in a millennium. So far the volcanic activity has not caused the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, as happened last December.
The volcano erupted for three minutes then returned to normal. The Mexican National Disaster Prevention Center is maintaining a yellow alert in the region. According to the Center, the eruption was caused by the collapse of Popocatepetl's lava dome. The volcano may be expelling parts dome that had built up within the crater, creating pressure.
On May 30, 2001, Popocatepetl exploded for two minutes, shooting hot rocks into the nighttime sky. Mexico's National Center for Prevention of Disasters reassured nearby residents that there was no immediate danger.
On April 16, 2001, a lava dome that had built up in the crater of the volcano collapsed, triggering an explosion of hot rocks and sending up a column of ash that towered over two miles high. The explosion, which lasted forty seconds, had been predicted by the government disaster center.
On December 18, 2000, the volcano staged its most violent eruption in over a thousand years. More than 40,000 residents of nearby communities were evacuated from their homes by public safety officials, although many refused to leave their homes within the danger zone. The volcano shot hot rocks over two miles into the air.
Ten days later, it was announced that the volcano had entered a phase of "relative calm", and the last of the evacuees were permitted to return to their homes. But again on December 30, Popocatepetl spewed ash on nearby communities, as well as the city of Puebla 25 miles away.
On December 28, Mexican authorities cautioned that the volcano would continue to belch flaming debris and smoke for weeks or even months to come. But on that day the last of the evacuees who had been forced to leave their communities over the Christmas holiday were permitted to return home. Public safety officials announced that travel within 7.5 miles of the mountain's base would remain prohibited. Residents are still forbidden from coming within seven miles of the crater.
Popocatepetl is located about 35 miles south of Mexico City.
Mexico was one of the first countries to respond to the tragic landslide in El Salvador on January 13, 2001. The nations share a history of suffering at the hands of nature. The El Salvador catastrophe was triggered by an earthquake, while Mexico's most recent experience of devastating natural forces was the Popocatepetl volcano outside Mexico City.
Heading the Mexican response team in El Salvador was Oscar Navarro, Director of Mexico's National Disaster Prevention Center, who recently coordinated disaster-prevention efforts in response to the eruption of Popocatepetl.
During the week of January 21, 2001, the volcano again sent up clouds of steam and ash. The seismic activity was substantially below the level of the December 18, 2000, eruption.