Webcam images on the site of the National Disaster Prevention Center showed the plume rising from the top of the 17,886-foot (5,450-meter) peak at dawn, though clouds obscured the volcano for people further away. The Televisa television network broadcast images of red, glowing material rising from the crater and falling on its slopes.
Authorities this week raised the alert level due to increasing activity at the volcano, known as "El Popo," whose most violent eruption in 1,200 years occurred on Dec. 18, 2000. During the 2000 eruption, tens of thousands were forced to evacuate from the area near the volcano.
The coordinator general for civil protection, Laura Gurza, told Televisa that officials were not yet ready to order any evacuations, but urged people living near the mountain to be "very very attentive" to action at the volcano, which is about 40 miles (65 kilometers) from Mexico City. She also urged them to gather important papers and to have their escape routes planned in case they have to leave.
Schools in five towns near the volcano were closed earlier this week after the alert level was raised. The schools reopened Thursday.
As the Monitor reported, in the wake of recent earthquakes and now the rumbling El Popo, Mexicans are now more worried about natural disasters than the drug war. A national poll showed 65 percent of respondents cited catastrophes and accidents as one of the top three things on their minds, while public security was indicated by 48 percent of respondents. The presidential elections slated for July 1 trailed at a distant third, at 28 percent.
On Friday, the ash was blowing to the northeast, in the general direction of the city of Puebla.