Fox warns Mexicans as volcano explodes


President Vicente Fox warned people to remain on alert as the Popocatepetl volcano in Mexico spat flaming rocks and smoke that experts fear could melt the mountain icecap and precipitate mudslides.

The volcano, 60 km from Mexico City, in its second day of activity ejected columns of smoke and ash yesterday, followed by several explosions that sent showers of red-hot rocks high into the night sky.

The flaming debris prompted local television stations to say that lava had begun to trickle out of the volcanic crater, but the Interior Secretary, Mr Santiago Creel, in a late-night press conference, dismissed the reports as mistaken.

"The evidence of the exhalations shows that the material hurled by the volcano has so far reached a maximum distance of three kilometres, with no signs up to now of any lava spillage," the Minister said, reading a statement from the National Disaster Prevention Centre (Cenapred).

But he said the material spewing out of the crater could cause a partial meltdown of a nearby glacier, sending mudslides speeding down the mountain.

The Minister said Cenapred experts believed the eruption would continue for several days, so the state of alert would continue. However, he also said the danger zone around the volcano had been scaled back from 20 km to 13 km. As many as 56,000 people were warned to evacuate their homes, as authorities on Monday extended the danger zone around the volcano. Some 20 million people could be affected by a major eruption.

So far, the only victim has been a 75-year-old man living near the volcano, who died on Monday from a heart attack as he watched the eruption, according to Cenapred.

President Fox said on television that everybody remained under a state of alert, but he appealed for calm, saying there was no emergency. He had earlier toured shelters housing evacuated people.