Saturday, June 11, 2005

Volcano of fire gets all fired up!

Volcano of Fire has people evacuate villages near Mexico City. Posted by Hello

Mexico's Volcano of Fire has been hurling hot lava into the air and dusting surrounding towns with ash, forcing evacuations and raising concerns of a much larger explosion.

The eruptions are the strongest recorded since scientific monitoring began 20 years ago, and even long-skeptical residents acknowledged Wednesday a newfound fear of the peak that straddles the line between Colima and Jalisco states, 690 kilometers (430 miles) west of Mexico City.

The volcano has had six spectacular eruptions in the past three weeks. The largest, late Monday, shot glowing lava five kilometers (three miles) above the crater of the 3,820-meter (12,533-foot) volcano and showered ash over the nearby city of Colima.

Authorities handed out surgical masks to protect against breathing the fine grit, but so far the volcano has caused no major injuries or damage.

"The ground shook, and there was this roar, and people came running out of their houses," Maria de Jesus Chavez, a 17-year-old high school student, said as she sat outside her home in San Marcos and watched the volcano with her family.

Seismologist Tonatiuh Dominguez said the increasing frequency of the eruptions and their intensity signaled the volcano was returning to an explosive stage like one that started in 1903 and climaxed when a massive explosion in January 1913 left a 500-meter (1,650-feet) deep crater at the volcano's peak and scattered ash on cities 400 kilometers (240 miles) away.

"I think that we're seeing something similar to what occurred a century ago," said Dominguez, of the University of Colima. "We are comparing it to 1903, when there were more than 200 explosions in one year...

"It's possible that we will see another one like 1913 in the coming decade."

Federal Civil Protection Coordinator Carmen Segura was traveling to the volcano zone Wednesday and said officials planned to improve monitoring of the volcano.

Residents of three towns -- Juan Barragan, El Borbollon and Yerbabuena, all eight kilometers (five miles) from the peak -- were asked to leave voluntarily on Monday. Most have followed the request.
"People had become pretty skeptical in recent years, because they have been evacuated before and then nothing happened," said Luis Rodriguez, civil defense coordinator for the state of Jalisco.
But he said attitudes had changed with the latest eruptions. Many witnessed Monday's explosion while waiting for buses to take them away.

"People who hadn't got on the bus said suddenly, 'Hey, make room for me,"' he said.

Dozens of evacuees slept at an improvised shelter in San Marcos, 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the summit. Before dawn Wednesday, families sat outside their homes, casting nervous glances at the peak.

"There are a lot of people who would like to leave, because this time they think it could really reach us," Chavez said.

A few families have insisted on staying, concerned their few possessions might be stolen or that they might be forbidden to return. About 300,000 people live within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of the volcano.

Authorities have established an off-limits zone 7.5 kilometers (4.5 miles) around the crater and an alert zone was in effect for 11.5 kilometers (7 miles).

The volcano has had more than 30 periods of eruptions since 1585, including several significant eruptions in the late 1990s.

It came to life again on May 23, sending a pyroclastic flow of burning gas and rock fragments more than four kilometers (2.5 miles) down the slopes and sending clouds of ash three kilometers (two miles) into the air.

Similar eruptions occurred on May 30, Thursday night, Friday morning and Sunday afternoon.
Ash coated cars and streets in the state capital, Colima, about 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the peak, and authorities recommended residents wear masks and sunglasses or goggles to avoid respiratory and eye irritations.

The volcano is considered to be among the most active and potentially the most destructive of Mexico's volcanoes.

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