Subj: Popocatepetl's largest eruption in 1200 years
Date: 12/19/00 9:27:11 AM Pacific Standard Time
To: (Newmill)

Residents flee as Mexican volcano showers red-hot rocks
SANTIAGO XALITZINTLA, Mexico (AP) - In the strongest eruption in
centuries, the volcano that towers over Mexico City "lit up like a
Christmas tree," spewing red-hot rocks into the air and sending
residents fleeing for shelter Tuesday.

The Popocatepetl Volcano, which awoke from a 70-year slumber in 1994,
had a spectacular eruption Monday night that frightened even residents
who had disregarded authorities" pleas to leave the area. The eruption
was the volcano's largest since A.D. 800, when lava poured from its
crater, filling nearby valleys, experts said. A red plume continued to
spew from the mountain's peak Tuesday, and authorities warned that the
crisis wasn't over.

Surrounded by throngs of people, President Vicente Fox visited residents
at shelters on Tuesday. "At first it was pretty. It lit up like a
Christmas tree," said Tomas Jimenez, a corn farmer. "Then the fear hit."
In his 68 years in this village just four miles from the volcano,
Jimenez said he has come to see "Don Goyito" - as residents
affectionately call the volcano _ as a trusted companion. But he had
never seen such fury. "It was a little frightening, because Don Goyito
was really playing," he said. Jimenez was one of  only a handful of
people to remain in the ghostly, deserted streets of Santiago
Xalitzintla (pronounced Sha-leet-ZEEN-tlah) early Tuesday.

Packs of dogs howled at the occasional army patrol or journalist passing
by, and the sky was lit by a red glow from the top of the mountain.
Although the volcano began to belch ash on Friday, it wasn't until
Monday night that the 17,886-foot peak, located some 40 miles southeast
of Mexico City, began its spectacular shower of incandescent rock.

"We got up on the roof and saw the rocks showering down. I started to
get nervous," said Cresencio Sandoval, a 55-year-old farmer. "If it
continues, it might be the end of the road for us right here." Many of
the 41,000 residents of the highest-risk zone who had refused to leave
in more than 1,000 buses sent in by authorities decided that finally, it
was time to go. "We aren't so stupid as to stay here when it gets
serious," said Cecilio Sevilla, a 26-year-old baker bundled up in a
rough blanket. He and Rita Agustin were married only Saturday and had
spent four days celebrating, as local tradition calls for.

Although Sevilla's head still hurt from a hangover, the newlyweds
realized early Tuesday it was time to go. It was unclear how far down
the flanks the lava was falling, but it appeared only about a half-mile
down the slope. Fox, speaking after an emergency cabinet meeting Monday
night, said some smaller incandescent particles had fallen as far as six
miles from the crater. "We continue on maximum alert, because this
emergency is not over," Fox said.

Calming fears of an ash fall among the 20 million residents of greater
Mexico City, Fox said "no major atmospheric effects are expected over
large cities." The volcano spewed a cloud of ash 2{ miles high, but it
appeared to be blowing away from Mexico City. The gritty volcanic dust
has carmaker Volkswagen worried. Special measures at its Mexican plant
28 miles to the northeast included sending all finished cars to dealers
and shipping ports.

Scientists have warned that a dome of lava at the base of Popocatepetl
(pronounced poh-poh-kah-TEH-peh-til) is causing pressure to build inside
the mountain. That could trigger strong eruptions. "It could have been
worse if this had been a brief, extremely violent eruption," said
Servando de la Cruz, a vulcanologist at the National Autonomous
University of Mexico. "In the next few hours, we'll have to see if more
energy builds up. These kind of events could be repeated."
Even so, some people refused to leave, most for fear that their homes
would be looted or their livestock stolen. Many residents say police
sent in to guard their belongings during a 1994 evacuation instead stole
them. Jimenez was one of them. He sent his family to Cholula, a city at
the volcano's base, and remained to keep watch on their house. But he
pointed to a battered pickup truck that represented his only escape.
"Here's my transportation," he said. "At the right moment, I'll take off