Smoke, ash and red-hot rocks belched from the Popocatepetl volcano near Mexico City on Wednesday, heightening the anxieties of Mexicans still shaken by last week’s powerful earthquake that killed hundreds and severely damaged thousands of buildings.
Popocatepetl, whose name means “Smoking Mountain” in the native Nahuatl language, showered a village at its base with ash, shook with the force of a 1.8 magnitude earthquake and spewed flaming rocks to distances of up to 1 km (0.62 mile), the National Disaster Prevention Center (Cenapred) said.
Eruptions and exhalations take place on average about twice a year since the volcano reactivated 23 years ago and are not seen by disaster officials as a major threat, but the activity has worried Mexicans following the 7.1 magnitude earthquake eight days ago and a series of aftershocks since.
The earthquake had its epicenter just a few miles from the volcano and “probably pushed” the volcanic activity, Carlos Valdez, director of Cenapred, told Reuters. He said the explosions had calmed since dawn.
On a clear day, Popocatepetl looms on the horizon of Mexico City 44 miles (71 km) away, and volcanic ash occasionally blows into the city.
Cenapred recommended people living near the volcano prepare for a possible evacuation order under a phase two yellow alert, two stages from a maximum red alert.
Winds blew the ash on Wednesday towards Ecatzingo, a village under the volcano that suffered damage to its church and dozens of houses in last week’s quake. The epicenter of the quake was just a few miles to the southeast of Ecatzingo in the state of Puebla.
The death toll from the earthquake reached 337 on Wednesday, with dozens more victims still believed to be beneath the rubble of one collapsed building in Mexico City.
At least 190,000 buildings have been seriously damaged by a series of earthquakes and storms in recent weeks, Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto said on Tuesday, with another senior official saying there was a collapse risk at 1,500 buildings in the capital.
Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez, Writing by Frank Jack Daniel, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien