Rescue workers walk on rooftops in Escuintla, Guatemala, Monday, June 4, 2018, blanketed with heavy ash spewed by the Volcan de Fuego, or “Volcano of Fire,” pictured in the background, left center. A fiery volcanic eruption in south-central Guatemala sent lava flowing into rural communities, killing at least 25 as rescuers struggled to reach people where homes and roads were charred and blanketed with ash. (AP Photo/Luis Soto)

Guatemala volcano death toll up to 33

Searing flows of ash mixed with water and debris down its flanks, blocking roads and burning homes

Rescuers on Monday pulled at least 10 people alive from ash drifts and mud flows that poured down the slopes of Guatemala’s erupting Volcano of Fire, but officials said at least 33 people were dead and the toll was expected to rise.

The head of the country’s disaster agency, Sergio Cabanas, gave the updated death toll, but said rescuers using helicopters had pulled 10 people from areas swept over by a towering cloud of thick ash, mud or lava.

Residents of El Rodeo, about 8 miles (12 kilometres) downslope from the crater, said they were caught unaware by fast-moving pyroclastic flows when the volcano west of Guatemala City exploded Sunday, sending towering clouds of ash miles into the air.

Searing flows of ash mixed with water and debris down its flanks, blocking roads and burning homes.

The charred landscape left behind was still too hot to touch or even to pull bodies from in many parts, melting the shoes of rescuers. Workers told of finding bodies so thickly coated with ash they appeared to be statues. Inhaling ash or hot volcanic gases can asphyxiate people quickly.

Hilda Lopez said the volcanic mud swept into her village of San Miguel Los Lotes, just below the mountain’s flanks. She still doesn’t know where her mother or her sister are.

“We were at a party, celebrating the birth of a baby, when one of the neighbours shouted at us to come out and see the lava that was coming,” Lopez recalled. “We didn’t believe it, and when we went out the hot mud was already coming down the street.”

“My mother was stuck there, she couldn’t get out,” said Lopez, weeping and holding her face in her hands.

Disaster agency spokesman David de Leon said 18 bodies had been found in San Miguel Los Lotes. Lopez’s husband, Joel Gonzalez, said his father was had been unable to escape and was believed to be “buried back there, at the house.”

In the village of El Rodeo, heavily armed soldiers wearing blue masks to ward off the dust stood guard behind yellow tape cordoning off the scene as orange-helmeted workers operated a backhoe. A group of residents arrived at the scene with shovels and work boots.

Some locals said they never learned of the danger until it was upon them — and were critical of authorities.

“Conred (the disaster agency) never told us to leave. When the lava was already here they passed by in their pickup trucks telling at us to leave, but the cars did not stop to pick up the people,” said Rafael Letran, a resident of El Rodeo. “The government is good at stealing, but when it comes to helping people they lack spark.”

Eddy Sanchez, director of the country’s seismology and volcanology institute, said the flows reached temperatures of about 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit (700 Celsius).

At least 20 people were injured, and authorities have said they feared the death toll could rise with an undetermined number of people unaccounted for. The disaster agency said 3,265 people had been evacuated.

Dramatic video showed a fast-moving lahar, or flow of pyroclastic material and slurry, slamming into and partly destroying a bridge on a highway between Sacatepequez and Escuintla.

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

Ash from the volcano, which lies about 27 miles (44 kilometres) west of Guatemala City, fell on the capital area as well as the departments of Sacatepequez, Chimaltenango and Escuintla. Streets and houses were covered in the colonial town of Antigua, a popular tourist destination.

Aviation authorities closed Guatemala City’s international airport because of the danger posed to planes, but the airport was reopened at mid-morning Monday after workers cleared away ash.

One of Central America’s most active volcanos, the conical Volcan de Fuego reaches an altitude of 12,346 feet (3,763 metres) above sea level at its peak.

The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

West Shore RCMP arrests five suspects in multi-jurisdictional drug trafficking investigation

Cocaine, prohibited loaded handgun, weapons, stolen vehicles seized

Saanich police identify suspect in Brydon Park assault

No charges sworn, no arrest made as of July 9

Bacteria levels lead to swimming advisory at Saanich park

Craigflower-Kosapsum Park among regional beaches with swim advisories

Woman who talked to unconscious husband, a Victoria police officer, for 30 years focus of study

Ian Jordan suffered a head injury when he and another officer were on their way to a call in Victoria in September 1987

Victoria’s Raging Grannies to demonstrate against public funding of for-profit senior homes

Group says COVID-19 has revealed ‘sad state of extended care’ in B.C.

Canadian policing organization calls for decriminalization of simple illicit drug possession

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police want policing focus of opioid crisis to be replaced with a health one

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of July 7

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

POLL: Would you get a vaccine for COVID-19 when it is available?

With the number of positive COVID-19 tests skyrocketing across much of the… Continue reading

Hefty undeclared driver charges piling up, ICBC warns customers

Average extra penalty $2,971 after an at-fault accident

Survey, hotline launched amid probe into racist blood-alcohol guessing game at B.C. hospital

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has been appointed to lead an investigation by Health Minister Adrian Dix

RCMP disarm man experiencing mental health crisis

The male pulled a knife on officers and then held it to his own throat expressing a desire to die

B.C. appeals judge’s decision to leave three clubhouses in Hells Angels hands

The province has filed two notices of appeal related to the B.C. Supreme Court decision

Conservation officers relocate Spirit bear known to roam northwestern B.C.

Bear roamed valley north of Terrace for many years

B.C. premier applauds call to decriminalize drug possession

Police shouldn’t struggle with health issues, Horgan says

Most Read