At least 33 killed, 3,100 evacuated after Guatemala volcano eruption
"Not everybody could leave — I’d say they were left buried," said a resident of El Rodeo, a town near the volcano.
Search-and-rescue workers headed to villages hit by Guatemala's Volcano of Fire early Monday after it spewed lava, ash, rocks and deadly hot gas, killing at least 33 people.
The Volcán de Fuego, or Volcano of Fire, began erupting ash and lava early Sunday, according to local reports. Hours later, fast-moving flows surprised communities that had not been ordered to evacuate. Ash spread through the sky, and blanketed the capital, Guatemala City, some 40 miles away.
More than 3,200 residents of communities near the volcano have been moved, and 46 people were wounded, according to officials. Authorities expected the death toll to rise and warned of the possibility of further mudslides.
According to officials, more than 1.7 million people have been affected by the eruption — the 12,346-foot volcano's second this year.
Rescuers, including members of the civil police, the army and doctors, began searching at 5 a.m. (7 a.m. ET) morning for survivors in the villages near the volcano.
The quick-moving pyroclastic flow — a mix of hot lava blocks, pumice, ash and volcanic gas moving at high speed down volcanic slopes — surprised some residents.
“Not everybody could leave — I’d say they were left buried,” Consuelo Hernández, a resident of the town of El Rodeo near the volcano, told el Periodico newspaper.
“Where we live the lava was coming down an alleyway… we ran to a hillside. If there are people buried, the lava came over the plots of land and streets.”
Victims' charred bodies were laid on the remains of a pyroclastic flow as rescuers tried to help badly injured victims in the aftermath of the eruption.
Officials monitoring the ash fall early reported a “positive panorama” and didn’t immediately evacuate residents. The volcanic activity increased at around 3:30 p.m. Sunday, with rocks, ash, sand and lava being launched into the air, according to el Periodico.
About 1,200 people were assisting rescue efforts, Sergio Cabañas, general secretary of the national disaster management agency Conred said.
A mudslide on the slopes destroyed a bridge, Conred reported.
And just after 9 a.m. (11 a.m. ET), a 4.9 magnitude earthquake hit, with its epicenter southwest of the city of Retalhuleu, according to Conred. It was not immediately clear if anyone was injured by the quake.
So far all the dead were concentrated in the towns of El Rodeo, Alotenango and San Miguel los Lotes, officials said. Rescue workers helped evacuate residents, but their efforts were hampered by the lava flows.
Dozens of videos making the rounds on social media and Guatemalan TV showing widespread devastation.
One video published by Telediario showed what appeared to be three bodies atop the remnants of the flow as rescuers tried to help to an elderly man caked 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," Cabañas said.
The dead included Juan Fernando Galindo, a rescuer who was trying to guide neighbors to safety when he was overtaken by clouds of hot volcanic gas, el Periodico reported.
The government has declared a state of emergency, freeing up funds to help the victims.
Falling ash covered the streets, cars and houses in the popular tourist destination Antigua Guatemala, around 11 miles from the volcano, as well as in Guatemala City, where the ash clouds led to the closure on Sunday afternoon of La Aurora International Airport.
Countries around the world have offered and sent aid, including the country’s neighbor Mexico, as well as Taiwan and Israel.
Residents of the nearby towns are no strangers to volcanic activity. The Volcano of Fire has erupted on and off for centuries, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and this is its second eruption this year. In January, wind carried ash 25 miles to the south and southwest.
Guatemala, with a population of 15 million, is home to a chain of volcanoes that run parallel to the Pacific Ocean.