25 dead as Guatemala volcano erupts and river of lava leaves charred bodies in its wake

Hundreds are injured after the eruption of the Fuego volcano forced thousands to flee

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 June, 2018, 8:52am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 June, 2018, 10:25pm

Emergency workers resumed the search on Monday for Guatemalans missing after the eruption of the Fuego volcano, which belched out clouds of ash and flows of lava and left at least 25 people dead.

The volcano expelled hot muddy material that caused the deaths, which included several children, in communities located on its southern slope, disaster agency spokesman David de Leon said.

Search and rescue operations had suspended due to low light and dangerous conditions, but were resumed early on Monday morning.

The Institute of Volcanology said the eruption ended after over 16 hours of activity, but warned that it could resume again and recommended precautionary measures be maintained.

The eruption of the 3,763-metre (12,346-foot) volcano sent ash billowing over the surrounding area, turning plants and trees grey and blanketing streets, cars and people.

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

“This time we were saved; in another [eruption] no,” said Efrain Gonzalez, 52, sitting on the floor of a shelter in the city of Escuintla, where he arrived with his wife and one-year-old daughter after fleeing the hard-hit El Rodeo community.

Gonzalez was overwhelmed with despair, as two more of his children, aged 10 and four, are missing. They were trapped in their home, which was flooded with hot mud that descended from the volcano.

National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (Conred) chief Sergio Cabanas did not rule out the number of dead increasing, as there are “missing persons, but we do not know how many”.

Cabanas said that the eruption also left 20 injured and affected more than 1.7 million people.

President Jimmy Morales and his government declared three days of mourning and a state of emergency for Escuintla, Chimaltenango and Sacatepequez, which must still be ratified by Congress.

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.

Some 3,000 people 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.

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

Dozens of videos appeared on social media and Guatemalan television showing the extent of the devastation.

One video published by news outlet Telediario, purportedly taken in the El Rodeo village, showed three bodies strewn atop the remnants of the flow as rescuers arrived to attend to an elderly man caked from head to toe in ash and mud.

“Unfortunately El Rodeo was buried and we haven’t been able to reach the La Libertad village because of the lava and maybe there are people that died there too,” said Conred’s Cabanas.

Steaming lava flowed down the streets of a village as emergency crews entered homes in search of trapped residents, another video on a different media outlet showed.

In another video, a visibly exhausted woman, her face blackened from ash, said she had narrowly escaped as lava poured through corn fields.

“Not everyone escaped, I think they were buried,” Consuelo Hernandez told news outlet Diario de Centroamerica.