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Dublin: 11°C Wednesday 23 September 2020

At least 99 dead as Guatemala volcano threatens new eruptions

More than 12,000 people have been evacuated from their homes.

People evacuate after the eruption of the Fuego volcano
People evacuate after the eruption of the Fuego volcano
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

EXPLOSIONS FROM GUATEMALA’S Fuego volcano has unleashed fresh torrents of mud and ash down slopes, as the death toll from a previous eruption rose to at least 99.

Fears of a new blowup of the 3,763-meter (12,346-foot) volcano have stalked rescue workers since Sunday’s eruption buried entire villages on its southern flank.

The National Forensic Sciences Agency said in a report yesterday that morgues had received the remains of 99 people killed as a result of the eruption.

Only 28 have been identified so far, it said.

The head of Guatemala’s disaster management agency Sergio Cabanas told reporters:

We already have data with names and locations where there are missing persons and that number is 192.

Experts warned that heavy rains in the area could provoke avalanches due to the large flows of volcanic mud, known as lahars, since the eruption on Sunday.

Volcanologists recorded the volcano exploding several times an hour yesterday, which generated a fresh 4,700-metre (15,500 feet) high column of gray ash. The Volcanology Institute said:

“The explosions are generating moderate avalanches that have an approximate distance of 800 to 1,000 metres.”

It said the lahars could sweep down the mountain laden with concrete, rocks up to a metre in diameter and tree trunks.

“The activity continues and the possibility of new pyroclastic flows in the next hours or days cannot be ruled out, so it is recommended not to remain near the affected area.”

Guatemala VolcanoFamily members of Erick Rivas, 20, who died in the hospital after suffering burns from the eruption of the Volcan de FuegoSource: AP/PA Images

Emergency workers had to temporarily suspend their search late on Tuesday after a new eruption triggered a landslide.

Hundreds of people were evacuated from seven communities in the Escuintla area near the summit, as panicked locals rushed to their cars to escape, causing chaotic traffic.

An AFP photographer saw a large plume of ash rise into the sky, prompting an evacuation of everyone authorities could find before the police, the military and rescuers were ordered to stand down.

Ongoing search

Hundreds of rescue workers, including firefighters, police and the military, were battling adverse conditions to search for remains in the tangled morass of rubble, dust and earth left behind by the landslides.

General Walter Sanchez, in charge of operations around the epicenter of the destruction near the village of El Rodeo, said the heat from the ash and hot sediment made rescue work difficult.

Firefighters hosed down their smoking boots, which had sunk into molten volcanic material just below the ash surface.

Everything in the search area was covered in a thick blanket of dust. In the murk created by the dust, police were using red ink to mark homes that had already been searched for bodies.

More than 12,000 people have been evacuated from their homes, the disaster management agency said, with over 3,000 of them housed in temporary shelters.

Guatemala VolcanoResidents evacuate after a new flow of searing hot volcanic material moved down the slopes of the Volcano of Fire in Escuintla, GuatemalaSource: Oliver de Ros

On the slopes yesterday, local volunteers distributed food to rescue workers, and columns of cars handed out food, water, toilet paper, diapers and other necessities to residents.

Some residents said they had organised themselves to prevent looting that they claimed occurred on the first night of the disaster.

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Strongest in decades

The killer eruption was the country's strongest in four decades.

It sent huge clouds of ash barreling over the surrounding area, blanketing roads, cars and people in thick gray dust as a river of molten mud carved a path down the mountain, sweeping away entire villages.

Officials said the speed and ferocity of the eruption took mountain communities by surprise, with many of the dead found in or around their homes.

Guatemala VolcanoAsh blankets homes and trees near the Volcan de Fuego, or Volcano of Fire, where rescue workers gather in the El Rodeo hamlet of EscuintlaSource: AP/PA Images

Despite offers of international help from the United States, Mexico and several Latin American neighbors, Guatemalan authourities have not made a request for foreign aid.

The foreign ministry said disaster management agency Conred would help determine any such request.

"We are ready when Conred, as the governing body of emergency management, authorise us to make an appeal," the ministry said in a statement.

President Jimmy Morales has been criticised on social media for passively waiting to react to offers of international aid.

The head of the International Red Cross Francesco Rocca is due to visit the country today, the Geneva-based agency said.

© – AFP 2018

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