Stirring Mexican volcano closes schools, raises alert

SAN PEDRO BENITO JUAREZ, Mexico - A powerful plume of steam and ash rose from the Popocatepetl volcano in central Mexico on Tuesday, prompting local schools to cancel classes and emergency teams to prepare for evacuations.
The volcano's lava dome started to expand on Friday, suggesting fresh magma may be pushing upwards. It spewed red-hot fragments and lightly dusted cars and streets in some small towns in the state of Puebla, television images showed.
Popocatepetl, which lies some 80 km to the southeast of Mexico City, pumped out a cloud of hot air and particles in an emission lasting about 20 minutes on Tuesday.
"It sounded like a loud cauldron releasing steam," said Reuters cameraman Roberto Ramirez.
Schools in at least five small towns near the volcano called off classes after Mexico's National Center for Disaster Prevention raised the alert level for the 5,450-meter Popocatepetl late on Monday.