Volcano’s Rumbling Near Mexico City Prompts Higher Alert Status

May 13 (Bloomberg) -- Mexican authorities raised the alert level for the Popocatepetl volcano near Mexico City after it spewed ash, steam and gas into the air and shook the ground near its base.

Authorities raised the alert level for the volcano, known as “Popo,” after it showed increased activity and distributed ash in nearby towns, according to Mexico’s National Disaster Prevention Center. Residents near the volcano should prepare for a potential evacuation, according to the warning.

Popocatepetl, which means “smoking mountain” in the Aztec language, is located about 70 kilometers (43 miles) southeast of Mexico City. At 5,426 meters high, it’s North America’s second-tallest volcano, according to the Washington-based Smithsonian Institution. A 12-kilometer area surrounding the volcano has been shut and transit between nearby towns is being controlled, according to the agency.

“This is a prevention phase,” Puebla state Governor Rafael Moreno said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “There’s no danger and the people are calm, but we should be on permanent alert.”

Activity at Popocatepetl prompted an alert last year, when ash fell on the towns of San Pedro Benito Juarez and Santiago Xalitzintla. It erupted in 2003, spewing lava for one kilometer around the snow-capped crater and bringing ash down on Mexico City.

A shelter has been installed in the town of San Pedro Cholula, about 20 kilometers from the volcano, and four more shelters may be put together if conditions worsen, Dulce Serrano, a local civil protection official, said in a telephone interview. Surgical masks are also being distributed in Cholula and health department mobile units are going across the villages closer to the volcano to monitor the welfare of the inhabitants, she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Martin in Mexico City at emartin21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andre Soliani at asoliani@bloomberg.net