Popocatepetl, Mexico City's Looming, 18,000 foot Volcano: A Constant Threat to the Capital.
Evacuation of Twenty Million Impossible
Mexico’s Capital: A City in Mortal Danger.
Mexico City is, depending on whose statistics you believe, the most populous city on Earth. And, anyway, once you get more than 20 million people jammed in a mega-mess like this, does it really matter who has the odd hundred thousand more? For the record, the DF, for Distrito Federal, is said to contain nearer 30 that 20 million. It’s enough, anyway when you realize they may all be in mortal danger.
The menace is not terrorist attack, earthquakes, (although they have caused enough mayhem), nor famine, disease or water shortage (the latter a huge concern). No, it is another looming killer that Mexicans don’t fear as much as they should: the mighty mountain god, Popocatepetl, or Popo as he is commonly (and affectionately!) known.
One of the reasons for Popo’s hostile demeanour, in Aztec legend, is that Popo, meaning “man that smokes” and sister volcano, Itztaccihuatl, meaning “sleeping woman” were actually lovers, changed by the gods into mountains, after the lady was killed and Popo is heaping fire on his surroundings in pique. The legend is much more complicated and would take several hub articles to cover thoroughly: you’d all be well asleep by then: but you get the picture.
Popo makes our pleasant rolling hills in the UK look like slight rises. The Smokin’ Chappie is gigantic, at 17,802 feet high, the second highest in Mexico (Pico de Orizaba is just about 900 feet higher). It is also one of the most active volcanoes anywhere having erupted more than 20 times since the Spanish arrived in the 1519. The present cycle began with a major event in 1947. This was again emphasized in 1994 when Popo spewed out a torrent of gas and ash carried more than 25 miles away by prevailing winds. The last of several evacuations from villages lying under the monster’s shadow was in December 2000 during which time Popo put on the largest show of nasty volcano tricks for thousands of years. Popo is only 45 miles to the south-east of 30 million people, some nearer, others a little further away, but all in proximity as far as a major eruption is concerned. Not only that, but another major city, Puebla, lies just 25 miles to the east where residents have a permanent view of his snowy peak and several glaciers. When magma erupted from Popo last time, it contained a deadly mixture of chemicals that would take several lines herein to notate.
Several of the tiny villages actually climb the lower slopes of the volcano, which you can drive up as far as about 12,000 feet on a winding road. One of the largest is Amecameca, where many residents refused to leave during past evacuations, saying, “Popo is our friend, he will never hurt us.” Scientists shake their heads, knowing all too well after Mount St Helen’s murderous eruption some years ago, that a major blow-out here will decimate local populations and make rescue a thing of pipe dreams less likely to succeed than that of Popo’s in bringing his woman back to life.
Journalists love Mexico’s slumbering assassin. Not a day goes by without a rumble and a belch; not a night passes without some small pyrotechnic display. No one can tell of course, despite all the latest gadgetry, whether the forces beneath the mountain will go into hyperdrive tonight, tomorrow or in a hundred years time. This is the danger of volcanoes. Even with regular monitoring, experts can’t guarantee more than a few hours warning before an eruption, and they won’t be able to say with any accuracy how big the eruption will be. In any event, to evacuate Mexico City would take weeks, as there are only about three major arteries out of the city which would jam tight in minutes if the alarm was sounded and taken seriously. So most residents shrug philosophically, the Mexican way, and get on with their lives. They love the sight of their huge neighbour. Rather like the old saw about rape, right? “If rape be inevitable, lie back and enjoy it.” The Smoking Man just sent up a couple of puffs in agreement.
Note: Popo can be seen on several live-cams, he is usually putting on some effects for the audience, even if it’s only his pipe drawing well.