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CNN Today

30,000 Families Evacuated After Volcano Erupts Near Mexico City

Aired December 19, 2000 - 1:25 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Smoke still is gushing from a volcano mountaintop today in Mexico and authorities warn the fury may not be completely calm. Commonly called the "Don Goyito" volcano, sits near Mexico City. It burst with its biggest eruption in centuries last night. Witnesses say it was both fascinating and frightening. Lava has filled the nearby valleys and tens of thousands of residents in the area have fled for shelter.

Joining us on the line now from Mexico, and hopefully from a safe distance, CNN's Harris Whitbeck.

Harris, how dangerous is this thing?

HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN MEXICO CITY BUREAU CHIEF: Lou, it -- from where I am about nine or 10 miles from the volcano, the plume of smoke and ash and vapor that is gushing from the volcano is really amazing. A huge column of smoke is going up into the air.

But the authorities say that that is a good sign, that as long as something is coming out of this crater it means that internal ducts are not blocked and it is quite literally letting off steam and avoiding the buildup of pressure that might -- that could lead to another eruption like the one we saw last night.

About 30,000 mostly peasant families who lived on or near the volcano have been evacuated to government shelters in nearby town. Mexican President Vicente Fox has been visiting some of those shelters this morning, and he and his officials insist that the situation is under control. However, a close watch, of course, is still being kept on this volcano, one of the largest in Mexico, and one, as you said, Lou, that had not shown any major activity in decades -- Lou.

WATERS: And what is the history of this volcano, Harris?

WHITBECK: Well, it's -- the last major eruption was back in 1926. And I actually spoke with people who remember it, who were very young back then, obviously. And they say that they remember there was a rain of pebbles and ash for days here. Then from 1926 until 1994 it was practically dormant. A lot of people used to go up there and trek on weekends.

But in 1994, it came back to life, not with a major eruption, but it did start spewing this smoke and steam and ash like we're seeing now. Officials had been predicting some sort of major activity on the volcano. And the latest prediction, which came last week, started because scientists discovered a lava dome of sorts had been formed on a crater, which was basically blocking it and preventing steam and pressure and energy from within the volcano to escape.

WATER: All right, CNN's Harris Whitbeck, good luck. He's watching us near Mexico City today, watching the "Don Goyito" volcano, astonishing pictures.

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