CWS Emergency Appeal Mexico Volcano 3 Jul 1997

News and Press Release
Originally published
33 Denominations & Communions Working Together to Meet Human Needs
Disaster Bulletin No. 76355
Signed by Rodney Page, CWS Executive Director


SITUATION: A series of eruptions the past week on Popocatepetl, the snow-covered volcano located some 30 miles from Mexico City, threatens the safety of hundreds of thousands in the states of Mexico, Morelos and Puebla, particularly villagers living at the base of the legendary mountain, known to Mexicans as "El Popo." Following Popocatepetl's most violent explosion since 1925 on Monday evening, the air in Mexico City has been filled with ash, and the Mexico City Airport has been closed sporadically this week as ash covered runways. Many residents of Mexico City have taken to wearing facemasks.

Authorities have been reluctant to evacuate the area near the volcano for fear of causing undue panic. But villagers have complained that the Mexican government has provided conflicting information about the volcano's danger, and thousands are awaiting word as to whether they will be evacuated. RESPONSE: The Church World Service office in Mexico City has been working on a preparedness and training project for affected communities, funded by the CWS Emergency Response Office. As part of this proactive program, and in cooperation with the Roman Catholic Church and local authorities, CWS is now working to move 3,000 people facing the most serious risk.

CWS is sending $100,000 for blankets, tents, and bedding in assistance. The villagers will be evacuated to nearby areas where temporary "tent cities" will be established as a precaution in case "El Popo" fully erupts.

CWS is issuing this appeal for $200,000 to assist in the evacuation, as well as to continue funding the disaster training project that had been under way for a month prior to the latest eruption.


SITUATION: Authorities continue to assess the danger of mudslides in the area, and some villagers, dressed in bright woolen ponchos, packed their possessions to be ready for evacuation, Reuters reported. Following the initial 30-minute explosion on Monday, villagers and farmers were greeted by a rain of stones, lava and ash, smelling of sulfur. The resulting ash cloud reached an altitude of nearly 40,000 feet.

Official announcements generated some confusion, said Samuel Lobato, the CWS Regional Representative for Mexico, Central America and Panama who is based in Mexico City. Some announcements were for a yellow alert, others for a red alert (the most serious). The rain of volcanic ash covered a large portion of Mexico City, as well as the states of Puebla and Morelos. The subsequent closing of the Mexico City Airport caused flights to be diverted to Guadalajara, Acapulco and Leon.

Since Monday, there have been a series of exhalations on the volcano, causing mudslides that forced the evacuation of at least one community, Xalitzintla. The gravity of the situation is a subject of some controversy. While authorities have played down the danger, a group of North American scientists inspected the volcano last month and reported that the situation was very risky and urged the government to take urgent action, Lobato reported. That has not happened and, as a result, preparedness is not at the level it should be, he adds.


The threat of "El Popo" has been widely known for years, and the preparedness and training project prepared by CWS in Mexico predates the most recent eruptions.

The project promotes community-based disaster preparedness training so that communities will be better prepared if "El Popo" fully erupts. CWS has provided $10,000 in funding for the preparedness program out of its Global Disaster Funds.

Those targeted for training include community leaders of some 48 communities, with a total population of 240,000 persons, in the state of Puebla. Goals include teaching courses to 70 community leaders, including workshops that emphasize a "grass-roots" approach to disaster