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Under The Volcano [EXCLUSIVE]

The movie belongs to Finney, but mention must be made of Jacqueline Bisset as his wife and Anthony Andrews as his half-brother. Their treatment of the consul is interesting. They understand him well. They love him (and, we gather, each other). They realize nothing can be done for him. Why do they stay with him? For love, maybe, or loyalty, but also perhaps because they respect the great effort he makes to continue to function, to "carry on," in the face of his disabling illness. Huston, I think, is interested in the same aspect of the story, that within every drunk is a man with self-respect trying to get free.

Under the Volcano

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Rainier is one of a score of volcanoes in the Cascades, from Northern California to British Columbia. Seven Cascades volcanoes have erupted in the past 200 years. All are smoking guns. "They say it's not if, it's when," Anderson says. The only question is how many people will die. As the U.S. population has doubled since 1943, whole towns have been built closer and closer to many of the 68 potentially active volcanoes that bubble away in Western states, Alaska, and Hawaii. Millions of people live in Seattle and Tacoma. Between the two cities and Mount Rainier, at least 100,000 people live on the solidified mudflows of previous eruptions. Orting, population 3,600, is one of the towns built on ground that is itself clear warning of danger. Known for logging and growing hops, Orting has a main street with a Timber Tavern and Frontier Bank on one side, a tree-shaded plaza on the other, and a postcard-perfect view of Mount Rainier at the foot. Inexpensive real estate has encouraged construction of at least three new housing developments like the one Anderson lives in. "And there's a new elementary school going up," he says.

Of course, volcanoes unpredictably express themselves in several ways: Rainier could blow, or flow, or both. One danger is a ground-hugging avalanche of incandescent rock (as hot as 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit), ash, and gas racing downhill at 80 miles an hour. In 1902, on the Caribbean island of Martinique, Mount Pelée erupted and sent just such a pyroclastic flow sweeping into the town of St. Pierre, killing 29,000 people. Only two residents survived; one of them, Auguste Ciparis, had been serving time in a windowless dungeon. Less frequent is the classic, melodramatic eruption that occurs when pressures that have built up within a chamber of viscous, gassy magma suddenly burst free, throwing out tons of gas, ash, and superheated volcanic rock. Such explosive volcanoes are typically tall and steep and poetically evocative, and often, like Etna, Vesuvius, and Fuji, loom large in history and literature. Mount St. Helens was one, and so was Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, which in 1991 spewed 15 million tons of ash, rock, and sulfuric acid 22 miles into the stratosphere. Within three weeks, the debris had veiled the globe, reflecting sunlight back into space and chilling that year's winter by at least a full degree. If all the volcanic material had fallen on Manhattan, it would have buried the island 1,000 feet deep, leaving only the tips of a few skyscrapers poking out. Luckily, an efficient warning system saved thousands of lives. Even so, 350 people died.

A volcanic eruption can't be prevented. But before it erupts, a volcano may rumble for weeks or months as hot magma rises, bulging measurably and producing a symphony of gas seepage, steam blasts, and small events called earthquake swarms. Monitoring such signs saved lives at Pinatubo. Nearly a million people lived nearby, including 20,000 U.S. military personnel. Scientists from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismicity noticed right away when Pinatubo awoke with steam blasts in early April 1991. A team of specialists from the U.S. Geological Survey worked with the Philippine scientists to set up a network of instruments around the mountain; they studied its eruptive history and concluded that a huge eruption was imminent. They were right. When Pinatubo exploded on June 15, in Earth's largest eruption in 75 years, it filled previously inhabited valleys with 600 feet of ash. Most people had been evacuated, not to mention at least $250 million worth of military equipment. At a cost of $1.5 million, the monitoring seemed quite a bargain.

Still, predicting volcanic eruptions remains an iffy science. The Mount St. Helens disaster in Washington in 1980 taught volcanologists a humbling lesson. They knew it was about to blow. But the timing surprised them, and the blast was three times more powerful than they expected. A wiry 30-year-old geologist named David Johnston was monitoring the mountain from a U.S. Geological Survey instrument truck parked on a ridge that now bears his name. "Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!" he shouted into his radio seconds before a blast that tore trees into tiny shreds and killed Johnston. His body was never found.

Mount St. Helens killed 56 other people, too, and led to a heightened sense of urgency at Geological Survey monitoring stations in Hawaii, Alaska, and Long Valley, California, as well as the Cascades. Geologists mapped rock deposits from previous eruptions, dated them to determine frequency of deposit, and identified spots likely to be hit again. Scientists analyzed the chemistry and temperature of gas emissions from hot springs and gas vents called fumaroles. As Japanese geochemist Sadao Matsuo once said, "Volcanic gas is a telegram from the Earth's interior." University of Washington volcanologists deployed six seismometers around Rainier to detect the small quakes that often precede an eruption. Others installed tiltmeters, distance-measuring networks, and Global Positioning System satellite receivers to detect subtle ground movements such as bulging, tilting, shifting, and spreading that could herald the next eruption.

Observers have known for a long time that watching a volcano can be useful. Tremors and uplifting earth were recorded in Pompeii just before Vesuvius erupted on August 24, a.d. 79. In 1993, geologists trekked to the top of the Galeras volcano in Colombia to test monitoring equipment. One of them, Stanley Williams, reported that he noticed an increase in tiny earthquakes and a decrease in sulfur dioxide emissions, suggesting the mountain had bottled up pressures. Williams ran. Incandescent rocks sizzled past his head, fractured his skull, broke his jaw and both legs and tore off his left ear. He was lucky. Six of his colleagues were killed. Even so, Williams has returned to the site many times to take more measurements.

With a computerized warning system, an extensive public education program, and yearly volcano drills in which school children are rushed into buses and hauled swiftly out of the valley, Orting is one of the best-prepared towns in the Cascades, says Carolyn Driedger, a U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist who works in public education.

Sigloch, a geophysicist at Ludwig Maximilians University Munich in Germany, is one of the latest scientists to pursue this long-sought quarry, known as a mantle plume. Such features are thought to feed some of the most active volcanoes on Earth, and could fuel the biggest volcanic outpourings ever seen. The one Sigloch is tracking, for example, has been linked to eruptions in India 65 million years ago that were so massive they may have contributed to the demise of the dinosaurs.

Mantle plumes could also explain why the Hawaiian volcanoes and many others appear in the middle of crustal plates, far from where they might be expected. And, by releasing pent-up heat from Earth's interior, plumes could have played a major part in how the planet has evolved over billions of years.

But the more researchers looked at the Hawaiian plume, the more complicated things got. In the classical plume paradigm, a jet of hot, viscous rock rises to the bottom of the lithosphere, where it pools in a sort of pancake some 100 kilometres thick before trickling upwards to feed volcanoes. But under Hawaii, the seismic images suggest a different structure, with an unexpected bulge in the plume well below the bottom of the lithosphere.

Sigloch and Barruol are expecting plenty of excitement in the coming months. Last week, they pulled into port at Réunion, their ship stacked with seismometers and precious data. It will be at least a year before they crunch through all that information and can see what is happening beneath Réunion. But the underwater traps seem to have caught their prey.

Cuernavaca, 1938. Resigned from his post as a British Consul, Geoffrey Firmin (Albert Finney) maintains a seemingly endless drunk, agonizing over the fact that his wife has left him. He disgraces himself at a formal dinner party, accusing a German official (Günter Meisner) of supporting pro-Nazi sinarquista terrorism. The friendly Dr. Vigil (Ignacio López Tarso) pries Geoffrey away before he can start serious trouble. Geoffrey is shocked when his wife arrives the next day. Yvonne Firmin (Jacqueline Bisset) has returned to see if her marriage is salvageable and doesn't try to interfere with her husband's drinking. They join Geoffrey's brother Hugh (Anthony Andrews) in a tour of Day of the Dead celebrations, but it becomes clear that Geoffrey cannot handle getting back together again ... he cannot forget Yvonne's earlier infidelity. Geoffrey runs away, forcing Hugh and Yvonne to search bars in nearby towns. But Geoffrey has chosen El farolito, a dangerous lawless place higher up the slope of the volcano Popocapetl.

Yvonne follows Geoffrey to the high-mountain cantina, replaying Malcolm Lowry's reference to the legend of Popocapetl. In the legend, the warrior Popocapetl loved the princess Ixtaccihuatl but she killed herself after being told that he died in battle. Popocapetl carried her corpse to the top of a mountain and perished as well. Their prostrate bodies formed the shape of the twin volcanoes.

And at the heart of the African continent, lies another volcano, one thatmay be more destructive than all the rest: Mt. Nyiragongo. With the fastestmoving lava in the world, and 2,000,000 people living in its shadows, whenNyiragongo erupts, it could be the worst natural disaster in history. And nowit is awakening. 041b061a72


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