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Millions evacuated after Mexico's Popocatepl volcano spews ash and gas

Greater activity is expected, including more ash at higher speeds, mild explosions spewing rock fragments, and possible tremors

Popocatepl | Shutterstock

May 23, 2023 8:51am

Updated: May 23, 2023 8:51am

Millions of people were urged to evacuate after Mexico’s Popocatepl volcano showed increased activity by spewing gas and ash into nearby towns, according to local authorities. 

The volcanic threat level is “yellow phase 3,” which requires around 3 million people living in the towns surrounding the volcano to prepare for a possible evacuation, according to the National Disaster Prevention Center of Mexico. 

On Sunday, the National Civil Protection Coordination (CNPC) said greater activity is expected, including more ash at higher speeds, mild explosions spewing rock fragments, and possible tremors. Nearby residents should also avoid outdoor activities and travel within a 7.5-mile radius of the 17,797-foot (5,425 meter) volcano, the CNPC added. 

“In the case of Mexico City, the risk is ash fall. We are prepared for that scenario and we know what to do. Let’s stay alert,” Mexico City’s Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said of the volcano which is 45 miles southeast of the city. 

Additionally, the activity, which began last week, has led to the closure of several schools in the area surrounding the volcano. In-person classes were canceled in more than 40 municipalities across Puebla, the state of Mexico, and Tlaxcala. 

Popocatepl’s activity has delayed flights coming in and out of Mexico City’s Benito Juarez International Airport, causing a temporary closure on Saturday, authorities said. 

“Air travelers may continue to experience additional flight delays, cancellations, or temporary airport closures with little or no warning” due to the volcanic ash, the U.S. embassy in Mexico said in a statement. 

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said during a news conference on Monday that the volcano is being constantly monitored and local and federal authorities were “standing by.” Officials are preparing evacuation routes and shelters in case the volcano does erupt.

While the volcano has exhibited activity throughout the years, Popocatepl has been dormant since its last eruption in 2000, when about 50,000 people were evacuated from the area.