The eruption of the Popocatepetl volcano just east of Mexico City has forced airlines to cancel flights to Mexico’s capital city for the time being. Over several days, the volcano has spit out a cloud of ash and vapor 2 miles (3 kilometers) high. The volcano also spewed hot showers of lava around its crater.
On Saturday, residents of Mexico City awoke to find their cars covered with a fine layer of volcanic dust. The dust is potentially dangerous to breath in, and residents have been told to sweep up any ash and put it plastic bags to keep it from mixing with water and forming a concrete-like substance that can block drains. Presumably, the dust would do the same thing to lungs inside a human body if enough was inhaled.
The volcano has erupted in the past without it affecting Mexico City appreciably because usually prevailing winds blow the volcanic dust in other directions. Earlier this week, though, ash fell in some neighborhoods on Mexico City’s south and east sides.
No new ash has been reported to be falling from the skies over Mexico City, according to Claudia Dominguez, spokeswoman for the Mexico City civil defense office, though there have still been continuous eruptions of vapor and ash into the air from the 15,000-foot (5,450 meter) volcano.
According to Mexico’s National Center for Disaster Prevention, at the peak of the volcano’s activity late Friday and early Saturday, there were three explosive eruptions. Popocatepetl has been continuously spewing clouds of ash into the air, most of which has headed northwest, towards Mexico City.
Out of concern for the residents of Mexico City’s safety, they have raised the volcano alert from Stage 2 Yellow to Stage 3 Yellow, the final step before a Red alert.
If the threat level reached the Red stage, possible evacuations could be ordered. During eruptions earlier this year until early June, when it was lowered, a Stage 3 Yellow alert had been effect.
On Thursday, at least six US airlines cancelled more than 40 flights. The airlines on Friday which have cancelled flights includes U.S. airlines, which canceled one flight, and Alaska Airlines canceled its route to Los Angeles, according to the airport’s press office in its Twitter account.
Four airlines on Friday cancelled flights. A total of 17 were cancelled, the airport reported, “due to climate conditions and in accordance with their own internal policies.” Among the airlines to cancel flights were United, Delta and AirTran.
The Popocatepetl volcano is located 40 miles from the airport. The airport is just a few miles east of the city’s center.
Residents have been urged by the Environment Ministry to take preventive measures to deal with the ash, including wearing dust masks, covering water supplies and staying indoors as needed.
Written by: Douglas Cobb