Monday, 4 June 2018

At least 25 killed, 20 hurt by erupting volcano in Guatemala

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GUATEMALA CITY: One of Central America's most active volcanos erupted in fiery explosions of ash and molten rock Sunday, killing at least 25 people and injuring 20 while a towering cloud of smoke blanketed nearby villages in heavy ash. An undetermined number were missing, and authorities feared the toll could rise.

Search and rescue operations for the missing and dead have been suspended due to low light and dangerous conditions, and will resume early on Monday morning, a spokesman for the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (Conred) said in a WhatsApp group.

Guatemala's Volcan de Fuego, Spanish for “volcano of fire,” exploded shortly before noon. Hours later, around 4pm (5am on Monday in Thailand), lava began flowing down the side of the mountain. Eddy Sanchez, director of the country's seismology and volcanology institute, said the flows reached temperatures of about 700 degrees Celsius.

Video images published by Sacatepezuez television showed a charred landscape where a lava flow came into contact with homes. Three bodies lay partially buried in ash-coloured debris from the volcano, which lies about 44km from Guatemala City.

Other videos from local media showed residents walking barefoot and covered in muddy residue.

“Not everyone was able to get out. I think they ended up buried,” Consuelo Hernandez, a resident of the village of El Rodeo, told the newspaper Diario de Centroamerica.

“Where we saw the lava fall, we ran to a hillside” to escape, she added.

Hundreds of rescue workers, including firefighters, police and soldiers worked to recover bodies from the still-smoking lava.

Firefighters said they had seen some people who were trapped, but roads leading to the area were cut by pyroclastic flows and they had been unable to reach it. In darkness and rain, the rescue effort was ordered suspended until early morning, municipal firefighters spokesman Cecilio Chacaj said.

The eruption sent ash billowing over the surrounding area, turning plants and trees gray and blanketing streets, cars and people.

Farmers covered in ash fled for their lives as civil defense staffers tried to relocate them to shelters during the event.



Earlier, Conred chief Sergio Cabanas and President Jimmy Morales held a news conference, saying that the eruption left seven dead, 20 injured and affected more than 1.7 million people.

Morales announced a red alert for Escuintla, Chimaltenango and Sacatepequez, the areas most affected by the eruption, and an orange alert throughout the country.

The president said he and his government would determine whether to ask Congress to declare a state of emergency in the areas, while at the same time appealing to the population for calm.

Hundreds of personnel from the police, Red Cross and military have been dispatched to support emergency operations, Morales said.

Cabanas said that the dead included a civil protection official and others trapped by muddy material that descended from the 3,763-meter (12,346-foot) volcano.

Twenty people suffered burn injuries, and more than 3,000 were evacuated due to the eruption, which affected rural communities around the volcano as well as Antigua Guatemala, a colonial-era town very popular with tourists in the Central American country, he said.

There are also "missing persons, but we do not know how many," Cabanas said, adding that lava had blocked entry to several communities.

Dense ash blasted out by the volcano shut down Guatemala City's international airport, civil aviation said.

People were working to clean ash off the runways to get the airport operating again.National Disaster Coordinator Sergio Cabanas said seven people were confirmed dead and an unknown number were unaccounted for.

Among the fatalities were four people, including a disaster agency official, killed when lava set a house on fire in El Rodeo village, Cabanas said. Two children were burned to death as they watched the volcano's second eruption this year from a bridge, he added.

Another victim was found in the streets of El Rodeo by volunteer firefighters, but the person died in an ambulance.

At an ad-hoc morgue in the town of Alotenango, at least three bodies lay covered with blue sheets.
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