Wednesday, 6 June 2018

GUATEMALA: Fuego Volcano Is At 75 Dead, More Than 200 Missing

At least 192 people are missing and 75 are dead as a result of the explosion of the Fuego volcano in Guatemala on Sunday, officials say.

Villages on the slopes were buried in volcanic ash and mud.

Rescue work on Tuesday was disrupted when a new eruption sent hot gas and molten rock streaming down the volcano's south side.

More than 1.7 million people have been affected by Sunday's eruption, with more than 3,000 evacuated.

Tuesday's explosion took many by surprise after volcanologists said the eruption, which had sent ash up to 10km (33,000ft) into the sky on Sunday, was over for the near future.

Eddy Sanchez, the head of Guatemala's National Institute of Seismology, had predicted no imminent eruption over the next few days.

Local residents lost more loved ones in a single night on Sunday than many do in a lifetime.

They saw children's bodies, they narrated between sobs. "They were huddled together in the bed, like they were trying to hide from what was happening.

It is really heartbreaking, but most of his neighbours in the village of El Rodeo have similar stories of grief. The village was almost entirely wiped off the map.

Almost 200 people remain unaccounted for as Guatemala's Disaster Relief Agency said.

The national disaster agency, CONRED, said on Tuesday that 192 people are missing after the Fuego volcano erupted for the first time in more than four decades.

The seismological, volcanic and meteorological institute, Insivumeh, heightened its warnings after the volcano erupted again earlier on Tuesday, forcing evacuations and sending rescue workers scrambling for cover.

A column of smoke rose from the mountain and hot volcanic material began descending its south side, prompting new evacuation orders for a half dozen communities and the closure of a highway on Tuesday.

Volcan de Fuego, or Volcano of Fire, spewed a 10km-long stream of red-hot lava and shot out a thick plume of black smoke and ash on Sunday.

It rained down onto several regions and the capital, Guatemala City, 30km away from the hardest-hit area.

Fuego Volcano Latest Updates:

Wednesday, June 6

A total of 192 people remain missing since the weekend eruptions, disaster relief agency chief Sergio Cabanas said.

Seven communities in already devastated areas were evacuated as the volcano's activity increased, with rescue operations halted.

The conditions are extremely critical at this moment, Insivumeh Director Eddy Sanchez said.

The search for bodies in mountain villages destroyed by the eruption was progressing slowly.

Given the nature of the terrain and the way the volcano released large amounts of boiling mud, rock and ash down the mountain.

Tuesday, June 5

Guatemala's disaster agency reported that superhot volcanic material is once again flowing down the south side of the volcano. The agency ordered new evacuations from areas around it.

Rescue workers pulled more bodies from under the ash and rubble, bringing the death toll to at least 70.

But officials said just 17 had been identified so far because the intense heat of the volcanic debris flows left most bodies unrecognisable.

As dawn broke, the volcano continued to rattle with what the country's volcanology institute said were eight to 10 moderate eruptions per hour, significantly less intense than Sunday's big blasts.

But the head of Guatemala's National Institute of Seismology, Eddy Sanchez, said the worst of the volcanic activity appears to be over.

It is evident that the volcano's energy has decreased and its tendency is to continue decreasing. No eruption is imminent in the coming days, said Eddy Sanchez.

The grim recovery effort continued on Tuesday. Using shovels and backhoes, emergency workers dug through the debris and mud, perilous labour on smouldering terrain still hot enough to melt the soles of shoes.

Bodies were so thickly coated with ash that they looked like statues. Rescuers used sledgehammers to break through the roofs of houses buried in debris up to their rooflines to check for anyone trapped inside.

In the village of San Miguel Los Lotes, evidence of destruction was everywhere.

Access is very difficult, and it's really hot in the places where we're trying to dig bodies out of the ash. The deeper you dig, the more intense the heat, said a rescue worker.

This is the epicentre of the slide, and it's the focus of the rescue efforts right now said one rescuer

Rescue workers are pouring out across this area, going into houses and pulling out bodies. In just 15 minutes we've seen four bodies pulled out. There's not a lot of hope for survivors a resuer said.

President Jimmy Morales declared three days of national mourning for the irreparable losses.

Monday, June 4

The number of fatalities from a massive volcano eruption rose to 62 on Monday. Only 13 of the dead have been identified so far, Mirna Zeledon, a spokeswoman for Guatemala's National Institute of Forensic Sciences, said.

Among the dead were four people, including a disaster agency official, killed when lava set a house on fire in El Rodeo village in southern Guatemala, 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.

A deadly pyroclastic flow which can travel down a mountain at speeds of more than 100km/hr, shot from the volcano and is likely the cause of most deaths, volcanologist David Rothery said.

A hot flow of mud, ash and gas swept down from Fuego after a new blast on Monday morning that interrupted disaster workers pulling bodies from the brown sludge that engulfed El Rodeo.

Survivor Hilda Lopez said the volcanic mud swept into her village of San Miguel Los Lotes, just below the mountain's flanks, and she didn't know where her mother and sister were.

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.

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.

Three shelters were housing about 650 people, Marcia Martinez from the disaster relief agency said.

There is this volcano dust everywhere. There are a lot of people here trying to recover bodies or searching for the missing.

Rescuers were using heavy machinery and shovels to find victims. Disaster agency chief Sergio Cabanas said helicopters rescued 10 people from areas hit by thick ash, mud or lava.

The Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales declared a state of emergency in the states of Chimaltenango, Sacatepequez and Escuintla.

According to volcanologist Eddy Sanchez, the volcano's temperatures reached 700 degrees Celsius.

Guatemala City's international airport re-opened after it was closed by falling ash from the eruption of the volcano to the west.

Fuego is one of Central America's most active volcanos. It was the second eruption this year and the biggest in decades.

Guatemalan officials say more than 3,200 people have been evacuated after the volcanic eruption.

We saw the lava was pouring through the corn fields and we ran towards a hill, Consuelo Hernandez, a survivor said.

Sunday, June 3

Authorities in Guatemala say 18 more people have been confirmed killed by a volcanic eruption, raising the death toll to 25.

Disaster agency spokesman David de Leon said late Sunday the bodies were found in the community of San Miguel Los Lotes.

Rescuers have struggled to reach rural residents cut off by the eruption, which also wounded at least 20.

Authorities have been unable to account for an undetermined number of people and say they fear the death toll could rise.

The Volcan de Fuego, or volcano of fire, exploded in a hail of ash and molten rock shortly before noon Sunday, blanketing nearby villages in heavy ash.

No evacuation alert was issued before the volcano erupted on Sunday.

The local residents had received training in emergency procedures but were not able to implement them because the initial volcanic activity happened too fast.

Sunday's blast generated pyroclastic flows. Fast moving mixtures of very hot gas and volcanic matter which descended down the slopes, engulfing communities including El Rodeo and San Miguel Los Lotes.

People should not underestimate the risk from pyroclastic flows and volcanic mudflows, known as lahars.

Fuego is a very active volcano. It has deposited quite a bit of loose volcanic material and it is also in a rain-heavy area.

So when heavy rains hit the volcano that is going to be washing the deposits away into these mudflows which carry a lot of debris and rock.

The debris and rock are extremely dangerous and deadly as well.

Thousands have left their homes since the eruption

A pyroclastic flow is a fast moving mixture of gas and volcanic material, such as pumice and ash.

Such flows are a common outcome of explosive volcanic eruptions, like the Fuego event, and are extremely dangerous to populations living downrange.

Just why they are so threatening can be seen from some of the eyewitness videos on YouTube of the Guatemalan eruption.

In one, people stand on a bridge filming the ominous mass of gas and volcanic debris as it expands from Fuego.

The speed it travels depends on several factors, such as the output rate of the volcano and the gradient of its slope.

They have been known to reach speeds of up to 700km/h - close to the cruising speed of a long-distance commercial passenger aircraft.

In addition, the gas and rock within a flow are heated to extreme temperatures, ranging between 200C and 700C.

If you're directly in its path, there is little chance of escape.

The eruption of Vesuvius, in Italy, in 79 AD produced a powerful pyroclastic flow, burying the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum under a thick blanket of ash.

Volcan de Fuego or Volcano of Fire or Chi'gag which is Mayan for where the fire is. This is an active stratovolcano in Guatemala, on the borders of Chimaltenango, Escuintla and Sacatepequez departments.

It sits about 16 kilometres (9.9 mi) west of Antigua, one of Guatemala's most famous cities and a tourist destination. It has erupted frequently since the Spanish conquest, most recently in June 2018.

Fuego is famous for being almost constantly active at a low level. Small gas and ash eruptions occur every 15 to 20 minutes, but larger eruptions are rare.

The volcano is joined with Acatenango and collectively the complex is known as La Horqueta. A new round of activity began on 19 May 2012, with lava flows and ejections of ash, that continued into January 2016

Tourism Observer

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