MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Striking images of the Popocatepetl volcano erupting near Mexico City that shocked residents of the capital this week were the result of new high definition cameras monitoring the mountain, and not due to any unusual activity, authorities said.
Popocatepetl, or “Smoking Hill” in the native Nahuatl language, belched a column of ash three kilometres (2 miles) high on Thursday morning that was visible from Mexico City, some 72 km northwest of the volcano.
Following a bright white flash and a shower of incandescent material, the volcano nicknamed “Don Goyo” emitted a dense twisting column of smoke and ash, lit orange by the early morning sun against a backdrop of light blue sky, the images published by the National Center for Disaster Prevention (Cenapred) showed.
On social media, concerned users shared the images with messages such as “Impressive eruption that Popocatepetl just had! Pray for the inhabitants of the area.”
However, Abigail Cervantes, deputy director of Cenapred Publications, told Reuters the volcano’s activity was within bounds of “normal” eruptions and that its plumes of smoke had previously reached up to 10 km high.
“On December 21, new high-resolution cameras were installed. That’s why it looked more spectacular,” Cervantes said. The cameras are located at several points around the volcano. Earlier cameras produced grainy, black and white images.
“As this season is clearer, (the ash column) was seen from Mexico City,” she added. Authorities set the alert level for the volcano at yellow, which indicates moderate risk.
They have asked citizens to get no closer than 12 km from the volcano, which began a new eruptive stage in 1994.
The volcano, the second highest in Mexico with an elevation of 5,550 meters (18,209 ft) above sea level, is one of the most closely monitored in the world, not least because of its proximity to Mexico City and around 26 million people.
Reporting by Diego Ore; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Tom Brown