Mexicans in path of volcano refuse to abandon homes determined to stay put despite volcano warnings

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Most of the 30,000 villagers who live on the flanks of an active volcano near Mexico City are refusing to follow government orders and evacuate their homes.

Most of the 30,000 villagers who live on the flanks of an active volcano near Mexico City are refusing to follow government orders and evacuate their homes.

Even though scientists say a serious eruption could be imminent, after the rumbling Popocatépetl volcano puffed out steam and burning ash a record 200 times in a single day from its ice-rimmed crater, inhabitants in the nine most threatened communities are staying put. They say the 5,230m-high peak - with a Nahuatl name that translates literally as "smoking mountain" - is just blowing off steam. The few who stayed in shelters on Saturday night were already heading back yesterday.

Plumes of water vapour, sulphur dioxide and ash are billowing miles overhead, and have already caused the cancellation of more than 30 scheduled flights that would risk damage to jet engines if they flew into the cloud.

Incandescent material has been tumbling down the slopes and, 60km away in Mexico City, people suffering respiratory problems are taking precautions against inhaling the gritty gray ash. Vendors hawk surgical masks at stoplights, and the nearsighted avoid wearing contact lenses.

Aurelio Fernandez, a vulcanologist, sasid: "It appears that a new dome is being formed, which could obstruct the channels through which energy is released. We can expect an explosive condition." Mechanical censors had detected a bulge near the summit.

Popocatépetl, which is visible from Mexico City on a clear day, is the most closely monitored of the 14 active volcanoes in Mexico.

For most villagers, the danger that looters will grab livestock and furniture in their absence is more worrying than the likelihoodtheir homes might be buried by an avalanche of slurry and acidic gases gushing down the canyons. The last time such devastation was seen was 1200 years ago.

Even though the army and civil defence groups tried to round up those at risk to board special evacuation buses, the villagers ignored the ringing churchbells and instructions shouted by megaphone. A yellow alert for the past six years has made many mistrust scientists as alarmist; none of the local shamans has reported warnings in his dreams.

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