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The BBC's Peter Greste
"It could cause a catastrophic explosion"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 20 December, 2000, 09:57 GMT
Mud slide fears over Mexico volcano
Popocatepetl spews smoke and ash high in the sky
Popocatepetl spews smoke and ash high in the sky
The Mexican authorities are on alert for deadly mudslides as a major eruption on the Popocatepetl volcano melts the mountain icecap.

Up to 56,000 people living nearby were told to evacuate their homes, as the eruption went into its second day.

The volcano, located just 60 kilometres (37 miles) from Mexico City, sent showers of red-hot rocks hundreds of feet into the night sky in several huge explosions.

Interior Secretary Santiago Creel said there was no sign yet of a lava flow, but warned that the heat could cause a partial meltdown of a nearby glacier, "sending mudslides speeding" down gullies.

Experts believed the eruption would continue for several days, he said.

Newly-installed President Vicente Fox toured the affected areas and attempted to reassure villagers about reports of looting.

"You can rest assured, the army is looking after your houses and everything," he told a woman in an evacuation shelter in Chalco.

Some 2,000 soldiers, called in to monitor evacuations, have been patrolling the deserted towns in the surrounding area to make sure that everyone has left.

According to disaster prevention agency officials, the only victim so far is a 75-year-old man living near the volcano, who died of a heart attack as he watched the eruption.

Lava "is still confined inside the crater," said Cenapred Director, Roberto Quass, adding that it was very likely volcanic material, especially ash, could fall on nearby Mexico City.

Temporary shelters

Huge traffic jams blocked roads leading out of nearly 40 villages covered by the evacuation order, as people slowly made their way to makeshift shelters set up by the authorities.

 President, Vicente Fox
President, Vicente Fox made an appeal for calm
"We've got around 21,600 people so far in shelters or on their way to them," said General Javier del Real, who is overseeing the evacuation.

On Friday, authorities had ordered all those within 12km (7.4 miles) of Popocatepetl, some 40,000 people, to leave the area, but only about 10% obeyed.

Fatalistic villagers, and those fearing their homes would be looted, initially resisted calls to move, but on Monday authorities repeated the evacuation order, saying that the risk had become critical.

The eruption, which began in earnest on Monday, is the first major burst of activity in the mountain for six years.

Popocatepetl had been dormant for almost 70 years before that and its last major eruption happened centuries ago.

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See also:

01 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Why volcanoes explode
20 Dec 00 | Americas
Mexico's eruption - in pictures
05 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
The Earth's Ring of Fire
19 Feb 99 | Sci/Tech
Volcano teaches deadly lessons
19 Dec 00 | Americas
Thousands flee Mexican volcano
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