World News

Guatemala's Fuego volcano erupts, killing at least 25

Posted June 3, 2018 7:33 p.m. EDT
Updated June 4, 2018 2:42 a.m. EDT

— Guatemala's Fuego volcano erupted for the second time this year, killing at least 25 people and leaving dazed residents covered in soot as they searched for loved ones.

The volcanic eruption Sunday spewed a river of red, hot lava and belched thick clouds of smoke nearly six miles into the air, according to the CONRED, the government agency for disaster reduction. In addition to the fatalities, 20 others were injured, it said.

Guatemala's President Jimmy Morales declared three days of national mourning. Survivors described the horror and destruction during the eruption.

"Not everyone escaped, I think they were buried," Survivor Consuelo Hernandez said. "We saw the lava was pouring through the corn fields and we ran towards a hill."

Hernandez told officials from the disaster agency that some of her relatives were buried.

Some firefighters wept as they left the scene.

Evacuate immediately

Residents living near the volcano were urged to evacuate immediately, and some in the states of Chimaltenango, Sacatepequez and Escuintla were warned to watch out for volcanic rocks and ash.

More than 3,100 people have been evacuated while search and rescue efforts continue into the night, said Sergio García Cabañas, director of the agency. The explosion will affect 1.7 million people. .

At least 15 people have been hospitalized, including 12 children, some of whom suffered severe burns, the health ministry said.

The eruption officially ended late Sunday, according to the Guatemala's National Institute of Seismology, Vulcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology.

"The eruption ... is reaching its end with 14.763 feet of ash and weak to moderate explosions and incandescence in its crater," it said in a statement.

But it warned there could be new eruptions, and residents in the surrounding areas should be on alert to lahars and mudslides containing volcanic material. Volcanic ash had spread in a 12-mile radius around the volcano and winds could carry the cloud even farther, officials said.

Guatemala is situated on the "Ring of Fire," an area of intense seismic activity.

The 40,000-kilometer (25,000-mile) area stretches from the boundary of the Pacific Plate and the smaller plates such as the Philippine Sea plate to the Cocos and Nazca Plates that line the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

Volcan de Fuego, whose name means fire, is one of Central America's most active.

It is near the colonial city of Antigua. Sunday's explosion rained soot over the popular tourist destination and other villages in the Sacatepéquez state, covering them in ash.

Villages south of the volcano in the Escuintla department were affected, too, Cabañas said. Lesser amounts of ash reached the capital of Guatemala City about 25 miles away, forcing the closure of its international airport. The Guatemalan army shared images of officers clearing the runway with push brooms.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto expressed condolences and offered assistance.

"All our solidarity and support to the President Jimmy Morales and the Guatemalan people for the loss of human life after the eruption of the volcano of Fire."

The President of El Salvador offered his condolences via Twitter and said he his country stood ready to assist its neighbor.

Israel's Ambassador to Guatemala and the Mayor of Puerto Rico also expressed their solidarity.