Saturday 20 April 2019

New evacuations near Guatemala volcano spark panic

Traffic came to a standstill as people tried to flee a fresh eruption.

Firefighters search a home in the disaster zone near the Volcan de Fuego (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
Firefighters search a home in the disaster zone near the Volcan de Fuego (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

By Mark Stevenson and Sonia Perez D, Associated Press

Frightened people living near Guatemala’s Volcano of Fire fled with their children and few possessions when fresh flows of super-heated debris were announced on Tuesday.

Those living nearby were taking no chances after authorities gave them little time to evacuate before a deadly eruption over the weekend.

(PA Graphics)

Traffic came to a standstill on choked roads and those without vehicles walked, even in central Escuintla, which was not under an evacuation order.

Businesses shut as owners fled, memories still fresh of Sunday’s blast, which left at least 75 people dead and 192 missing, and reduced a once verdant area to a moonscape of ash.

Mirna Priz wept as she sat on a rock at a crossroads, with a suitcase in front of her and her 11-year-old son, Allen, and their terrier mix Cara Sucia by her side.

“You feel powerless,” she said. “I don’t know where I’m going to go. To leave my things, everything I have.”

But after seeing what happened on Sunday, she was afraid to stay.

(PA Graphics)

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

The country’s seismology and vulcanology institute said the smoke billowing from the volcano’s top could produce a “curtain” of ash that could reach 20,000 feet (6,000 metres) above sea level, posing a danger to air traffic.

Rescuers, police and journalists hurried to leave the area as a siren wailed and loudspeakers blared: “Evacuate!”

Traffic came to a standstill as people fled (Luis Soto/AP)

Among those fleeing was retiree Pantaleon Garcia, who was able to load his grandchildren into the back of a pickup with a jug of water and some food. They were heading to the homes of relatives in another town.

“You have to be prepared, for the children,” he said.

When the panic set off by the new evacuations became clear, disaster officials called for calm.

In the community of Magnolia, which was under the new evacuation order, residents fled carrying bags of clothing and even small dogs in their arms.

Firefighters work in the disaster zone blanketed in volcanic ash (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

Many walked along the side of the highway because traffic had stalled on the only road out.

By Tuesday, the images of Sunday’s destruction were familiar to everyone. What was once a collection of green canyons, hillsides and farms was reduced to grey devastation by fast-moving avalanches of super-heated muck that roared into the tightly knit villages on the mountain’s flanks.

A rescue worker carries his search dog to another site (Rodrigo Abd/AP)

Two days after the eruption, the terrain was still too hot in many places for rescue crews to search for bodies or — increasingly unlikely with each passing day — survivors.

A spokesman for Guatemala’s firefighters said that once it reaches 72 hours after the eruption, there will be little chance of finding anyone alive.

Press Association

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