Death Toll Climbs From Guatemala Volcano Eruption


Monday, June 4th 2018, 2:38 am
By: News On 6


One of Central America's most active volcanoes erupted in fiery explosions of ash and molten rock Sunday. The head of Guatemala's National Forensic Sciences Institute says 62 dead in volcano eruption, 13 of them identified.

Guatemala's Volcan de Fuego, Spanish for "volcano of fire," exploded shortly before noon. Hours later, around 4 p.m., 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 1,300 degrees.

Firefighters announced late Sunday that they have been forced to call off rescue efforts until morning over safety concerns.

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-colored debris from the Volcan de Fuego about 27 miles 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.

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.

Guatemala's disaster agency said 3,100 people had evacuated nearby communities, and ash fall from the eruption was affecting an area with a population of about 1.7 million of the country's 15 million or so people. Shelters were opened for those forced to flee.

"Currently the volcano continues to erupt and there exists a high potential for (pyroclastic) avalanches of debris," the disaster agency said via Twitter, quoting Sanchez, the director of the seismology and volcanology institute.

It added that he said authorities began to send bulletins on the situation starting at 11:30 a.m.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said he would issue a declaration of a state of emergency to be approved by Congress and urged people to heed warnings from emergency officials.

The conical Volcan de Fuego reaches an altitude of 12,346 feet above sea level at its peak.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.