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Coping With the Volcano: Popocatépetl Safety Tips

AAP-Popocatepetl2-wmrkPopocatépetl has been blowing a lot of smoke lately. The active volcano sent so much ash, steam, and glowing bits of lava into the air — sometimes more than a mile above its crater — this past week that it looked like it had snowed in the Puebla capital. Wayward ashes were reported as far away as Guatemala, and flights were suspended at the city’s airport Wednesday until the cleanup crew could sweep up the mess on the runway.

The increased activity led the National Center for Disaster Prevention in Mexico to raise its alert level for the volcano. An official report [PDF] released Sunday morning explained:

“The increase in the general activity of Popocatepetl volcano during the last weeks and especially the acceleration of the seismic activity registered yesterday, today at 1:40 a.m., the Interior Ministry raised the Volcanic Alert Level to Yellow Phase 3. During the period in which the volcanic traffic light remains in this level, two bulletins will be issued daily: the first at 10 a.m., with a summary of the activity of the last 24 hours and the second at 7 p.m., featuring updating the data reported in the first. If necessary, the updates will be reported more frequently. … The volcanic alert level is in YELLOW Phase 3.”

This is the third-highest warning on the center’s seven-step scale [PDF], and it essentially means that the experts who keep an eye on Don Goyo think his activity level may continue to increase.

“In past years, the type of activity reported was associated to the ascent of magmatic material and the growth of the lava dome. This activity leads to the following likely scenarios: intermediate to high-scale explosive activity, dome growth, and possible lava emission; explosions of growing intensity; occurrence of pyroclastic flows [a fast-moving current of hot gas and rock]; and ash fall on the closer villages and in lesser amounts in the more remote places, depending on the wind direction.

“The Popocatepetl volcano is monitored continuously 24 hours a day. Any significant change in the activity of the volcano will be [reported] promptly.” For the latest update in English, click here.

Volcano Health & Safety Tips

There’s currently no reason to panic or to cancel your trip to Puebla. But if you live here or are traveling in the area, it’s in your best interest to stay abreast of the situation. Pay attention to local news reports for updates. (We’ll do our best to share any new information, as it becomes available, through our Twitter and Facebook accounts, too.)

In general, this is not a good time to visit El Paso de Cortés, the mountain pass between Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl. The road is permanently closed to through traffic (to Mexico City), but it provides access to the national park, where there’s an observation point and hiking and climbing are permitted on Iztaccíhuatl.

The reason to stay away: Communities near the volcano will be among the first evacuated in the event that the alert level gets raised again. As a preventative measure, Puebla state officials on May 12 put El Plan Operativo Popocatépetl in place. The plan provides for the evacuation and shelter of residents in high-risk areas; the city of Puebla, situated 28 miles east of the crater, is outside this radius.

“This is a prevention phase,” the state governor told local media. “There is no immediate danger and people are calm, but we must be on constant alert.”

Foreign residents and travelers should contact their embassies for instructions in the event of a major emergency. The local equivalent of 911 is 066.

Ashes from the volcano — essentially a very fine gray dust — can cause or aggravate respiratory issues and allergies, including itchy eyes. The city’s civil protection agency recommends that you refrain from outdoor activities, keep doors and windows closed, and cover your eyes and mouth with protective wear (particularly if you use contact lenses). If your eyes or throat become irritated, rinse them with purified water. Avoid al fresco dining, from restaurants to street food. Keep your pets inside. Protect household water sources, including tanks and cisterns.

In addition, authorities note, ashes make surfaces slippery. To clean them up, it’s best to use a broom or a dry cloth to remove them from surfaces. Getting ashes wet first will turn them into cement-like mud. Collect and use this new soil (which is rich in minerals) to fertilize your yard or garden.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

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One Response to “Coping With the Volcano: Popocatépetl Safety Tips”

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  1. Tricia says:

    I’m beginning to suspect that Popo KNOWS when I’ve hung up the white laundry to dry and saves the big ashfalls for those occasions.

    I like our volcano better when it was a picturesque snow-capped conversation piece!

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