Saturday 15 December 2018

Guatemalan volcano kills dozens in river of lava

A man watches as Volcano Fuego erupts. Photo: Getty
A man watches as Volcano Fuego erupts. Photo: Getty

Sonia Perez

The death toll from the eruption of Guatemala's Fuego Volcano rose to 62 last night, with rescuers expecting to find more bodies.

First responders in helicopters managed to pull at least 10 people alive from ash drifts and mud flows that were up to the rooflines of some homes, forcing rescuers to use sledgehammers to break through the roofs to see if anyone was trapped inside.

A soldier takes a rescued child covered with ash to hospital. Photo: Reuters
A soldier takes a rescued child covered with ash to hospital. Photo: Reuters

Residents of El Rodeo, about 12km down-slope from the crater, said they were caught unaware by the fast-moving hot ash and rock when the volcano west of Guatemala City exploded on Sunday.

Searing flows of ash mixed with water and debris gushed down the volcano's flanks, blocking roads and burning homes.

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

"We were at a party, celebrating the birth of a baby, when one of the neighbours shouted to come out and see the lava that was coming," the distraught woman said.

A victim lies amid the ash. Photo: Getty
A victim lies amid the ash. Photo: Getty

"When we went out the hot mud was already coming down the street."

"My mother was stuck there, she couldn't get out," said Ms Lopez, weeping and holding her face in her hands.

At least 62 people were confirmed dead, according to Fanuel Garcia, director of the National Institute of Forensic Science.

All came from the hamlets of Los Lotes and El Rodeo, but only 13 had been identified so far because the flows that reached temperatures as high as 700C had disfigured the bodies.

"We're having a lot of trouble identifying them because some of the dead lost their features or their fingerprints. We're going to have to use other anthropological methods and if possible take DNA samples to identify them," Mr Garcia said.

Some residents of El Rodeo said they never learned of the danger until it was upon them - and were critical of authorities.

"When the lava was already here they passed by in their pick-up trucks yelling at us to leave, but the cars did not stop to pick up the people," said Rafael Letran, a resident of El Rodeo.

Authorities have said they feared the death toll could rise with an undetermined number of people unaccounted for.

Among the fatalities were four people, including a disaster agency official, killed when lava set a house on fire in El Rodeo, National Disaster Co-ordinator Sergio Cabanas said.

Two children were burned to death as they watched the volcano's second eruption this year from a bridge, he added.

Dramatic video showed a fast-moving flow of mud, ash and slurry slamming into and partly destroying a bridge on a highway between the towns of Sacatepequez and Escuintla.

Irish Independent

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