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.

Just Posted

Preliminary inquiry being held for West Kelowna man charged in wife’s murder

Man charged in the killing of his wife is in court this week for a preliminary inquiry.

Kelowna a top Canadian city when it comes to moves

U-Haul ranks city 19th on its list of top 20 spots for DIY movers

SunRype puts stamp on Okanagan Marathon

The Kelowna-based company takes over title sponsorship of the annual October run and festival

Penticton man dies in Lavington train incident

Sunday afternoon incident claims 25 year old

Hot weather to hit the valley

Environment Canada issues a special weather statement.

REPLAY: B.C. this week in video

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

B.C. pledges $550 million for Indigenous housing

Aboriginal leaders say federal government needs to pitch in too

Okanagan residents getting locked up for B.C. SPCA

SPCA events taking place around the Okanagan raises funds for abused and homeless animals

Falcons rally for win in Wenatchee

Kelowna scores four in the ninth inning to earn West Coast League victory over Apple Sox Sunday

Car crashes into City Park

A vehicle travelling at a high rate of speed crashed into a Kelowna park Sunday night

Morning balloon landing at mall

A hot air balloon landed in the parking lot of the mall in Kelowna

Sweden beats South Korea 1-0

Sweden gets benefit of video review in World Cup

Blue Jay Roberto Osuna not expected to appear in court

The Blue Jays pitcher is charged with one count of assault by Toronto police

Global warming cooks up ‘a different world’ over 3 decades

Over 30 years the world’s annual temperature has warmed nearly 1 degree according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Most Read