Millions preparing to flee homes as volcano spews ash and rock

Millions of people in Mexico have been told to get ready to leave their homes as the country’s Popocatépetl volcano spews ash, rock and gas.

Officials said people living downwind of “El Popo” should wear masks and cover their eyes but the country’s president played down the risk to life.

The volcano, which lies in central Mexico, just 45 miles (72km) southeast of Mexico City, has been belching for days.

On Monday, officials warned millions of people to prepare for a possible evacuation, but none have been ordered yet.

Nonetheless, authorities have been driving evacuation routes, preparing some shelters and doing simulation drills.

People have been instructed not to go anywhere within a 7.5 mile (12km) radius of the mountain.

Around 25 million people live within a 60 mile (96km) radius of the mountain, considered to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world because of its location.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday its intensity had decreased.

He said: “The ash it emits is also less. Basically, it’s going more toward Puebla. The rest of the states do not have ash falling and we are watching day and night that there is no panic.”

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Mexico volcano spews smoke and ash

Winds have blown a large plume of ash east over the states of Puebla and Veracruz and eventually the Bay of Campeche and beyond.

On Monday, the Mexican government raised the warning level on the 17,797ft (5,424m) volcano’s activity and in-person schooling was suspended in parts of three states.

With almost nine million people, Mexico City is the largest city in North America.

Mexico’s Defence Department said on Sunday, 6,500 troops were on standby if needed.

Popocatepetl came to life in 1994 after a decades-long dormancy and experienced periods of greater activity from 2000 to 2003 and 2012 to 2016.

Civil defence co-ordinator Laura Velazquez said on Sunday the traffic light-style warning system for the volcano remained on yellow, but had risen to phase three.

In this phase, large domes develop and explode in increasing intensity, launching incandescent rock into the air and pyroclastic flows down its flanks.

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Still, she said, “there is no risk to the population at this time”.

Only three of the volcano’s 565 explosions since September had been big, and the current activity was not the greatest of this century, Ms Velazquez added.