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MEXICO EVACUATES 18 RURAL TOWNS AS VOLCANO SPEWS ASH

SHARE MEXICO EVACUATES 18 RURAL TOWNS AS VOLCANO SPEWS ASH

The bells of the 18th century church ring across the plaza of this town, now empty save for soldiers, rescue workers and a few residents too stubborn to budge.

Santiago Xalitzintla is one of 18 towns that officials ordered evacuated as the Popocatepetl volcano spewed ash Thursday for a second day.Ronulfo Ochoa Apantenco, mayor of this town on the volcano's flank, worked with soldiers and other officials Thursday to convince the remaining residents to leave.

"They're poor peasants who are afraid of losing what few belongings they have," Ochoa Apantenco said, standing in the town square decorated with festive red and green Christmas ribbons and pinatas.

The Puebla state government said 75,000 people would be evacuated from the countryside around the 17,991-foot volcano. It began spewing thick clouds of roiling ash on Wednesday.

"At first we didn't want to leave our homes, because we worried for our animals," said Esperanza Garcia Ramos, 23, who was anxious about her goats grazing untended.