One of Central America’s most active volcanoes has erupted in fiery explosions of ash and molten rock, killing at least 25 people and injuring many more. Guatemala’s Volcan de Fuego, Spanish for ‘volcano of fire,’ exploded shortly before noon local time and hours later lava began flowing down the side of the mountain.
Eddy Sanchez, director of the country’s seismology and volcanology institute, said the flows reached temperatures of about 700C (1,300F) Three bodies lay partially buried in ash-colored debris from the volcano, which lies about 27 miles from Guatemala City. ‘Not everyone was able to get out. I think they ended up buried,’ Consuelo Hernandez, a resident of the village of El Rodeo, told the newspaper Diario de Centroamerica.
At least seven people, including three children, were killed and nearly 300 injured on Sunday in the most violent eruption of Guatemala’s Fuego volcano in over four decades, officials said. Fuego volcano, whose name means “fire” in English, spewed an 8-kilometer (5-mile) stream of red hot lava and belched a thick plume of black smoke and ash that rained onto the capital and other regions.
The charred bodies of victims laid on the steaming, ashen remnants of a pyroclastic flow as rescuers attended to badly injured victims. “It’s a river of lava that overflowed its banks and affected the El Rodeo village. There are injured, burned and dead people,” Sergio Cabanas, the general secretary of Guatemala’s CONRED national disaster management agency, said on radio. “We have 7 confirmed dead, 4 adults and 3 kids, who were already taken to the morgue,” said Mario Cruz, spokesman for the volunteer firefighter corps. Cabanas said one of those killed was a CONRED employee.
He added that 3,100 people had evacuated the area so far. Dozens of videos were popping up on social media and local TV, depicting the extent of devastation. One video published by news outlet Telediario, purportedly taken in the El Rodeo village, showed three bodies strewn atop a lava flow, as rescuers arrived to attend to an elderly man caked from head to toe in ash and mud. “Unfortunately El Rodeo was buried and we haven’t been able to reach the La Libertad village because of the lava and maybe there are people that died there too,” said CONRED’s Cabanas.
In another video, a visibly exhausted woman said she had narrowly escaped as lava poured through corn fields. “Not everyone escaped, I think they were buried,”
‘Where we saw the lava fall, we ran to a hillside’ to escape, she added. Hundreds of rescue workers, including firefighters, police and soldiers worked to recover bodies from the still-smoking lava.
Consuelo Hernandez told local news outlet Diario de Centroamerica in a video. Steaming lava flowed down the streets of a village as emergency crews entered homes in search of trapped residents, another video on a different local media outlet showed.
President Jimmy Morales said he had convened his ministers and was considering declaring a state of emergency in the departments of Chimaltenango, Escuintla and Sacatepequez. The eruption forced the Guatemala City’s La Aurora international airport to shut down its only runway due to the presence of volcanic ash and to guarantee passenger and aircraft safety, Guatemala’s civil aviation authority said in a Tweet.
The volcano is located some 25 miles (40 km) southwest of the capital Guatemala City and is close to the colonial city of Antigua, popular with tourists and known for its coffee plantations. Workers and guests were evacuated from the La Reunion golf club near Antigua. Video footage showed a black cloud of ash rising from just beyond the golf club.
The lava river was running on the other side of the volcano. The huge plumes of smoke that could be seen from various parts of the country and the ash that fell in four of Guatemala’s departments caused alarm among residents. “Temperatures in the pyroclastic flow can exceed 700
National disaster coordinator Sergio Cabanas said seven people were confirmed dead and an unknown number were unaccounted for before the figure was later revised.
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Be Prepared: Volcanic Ash Fall
Ash fall is the most likely volcanic hazard. This will only happen if the wind blows the ash cloud your way. Knowing what to do before you have to do it is very important.
Listed below is general information about protecting yourself and your home from the effects of ashfall. The effects on infrastructure can be very damaging. A series of specialist posters has been prepared for infrastructure and urban managers.
What to do during an ash fall
- Stay indoors
- Close windows and doors. Stop ash entering the building
- Do not run air-conditioning or clothes dryers
- Listen to the radio for advice and information
- If outside seek shelter; use a mask or handkerchief for breathing. Wear protective clothing especially if working in the ash fall, and goggles to protect the eyes.
- If possible do not drive, park your car under-cover or cover it
- If you must drive, drive slowly as ash fall will reduce visibility. You may need to use the car headlights because of the reduced visibility. Do not use the car’s ventilation system. Ash on the road surface can also reduce traction.
- Do not rush to your child’s school. Schools are responsible for the safety of the children. Schools will notify you of any emergency procedures which are to be taken.
- Keep pets indoors.
- Check that livestock have enough food and water. May need to shelter livestock if the fall is heavy.
- Disconnection of roof-fed water supply is only required when an ash fall is occurring or during the clean up to stop ash entering the storage tanks.
- If you are uncertain of what to do seek advice from civil defence
How to clean up an ash fall
- Wetting down ash will form a glue-like material (not easy to remove) and add weight to the ash. The best method is to lightly damp the ash (to prevent it billowing) and to sweep it up. Remember water will be in high demand.
- Remove ash immediately (before rain if possible) but remember ash particles commonly have sharp broken edges making it a very abrasive material.
- Clean house roofs first to reduce windblown ash covering cleaned areas or damage to guttering and blocking down-pipes.
- Place ash in rubbish bags if possible and seal them.
- Do not dump ash in the storm-water or sewage system.
- Contact your council for information on the disposal of ash.
- Prevent further ash entering house by restricting access to the most protected (sheltered) entrance.
- Vacuum indoor surfaces were possible or use a damp cloth to remove ash. Avoid vigorous rubbing.
- To remove ash from your car wash with plenty of water. Carry out car maintenance if you have been driving in ash. For example, check/change air filter, oil filter, oil and brake pads in car.
- Dry ash should be blown off with high pressure air, while wet ash should be cleaned off by hand or with water at high pressure.
Protection against ash fall
- Ash should be removed from building roofs to avoid collapse which could result in injury to the building occupants. About 100 mm of dry ash could collapse a flat roof. Before ash is to be removed, ensure that storm water systems are sealed to stop ash entering. If possible, sweep ash off in a dry state – the addition of water will turn the ash into mud which can set like concrete. Remove the swept ash to a suitable dumping site. Caution is needed working on roofs.
- In heavy ash falls, windows and doors may need additional sealing to avoid ash entering the building. Extra care must be taken by people entering buildings to ensure that outer clothing and footwear is removed early to avoid spreading ash throughout the building.
- All ash removal measures are labour intensive and require constant attention.
- All types of engines (cars, trucks, aircraft), will require additional filtering with regular changes in order to maintain efficiency. Advice should be sought from manufacturers as to suitable air filter requirements.
- Careful monitoring of lubricant needs to be conducted. Lubricants may need to be changed at up to four times the normal frequency. Other working parts on vehicles and machinery such as brakes, conveyors and electrical motors need to be dusted or air blasted on a frequent and regular basis to avoid excessive abrasion.
- Farm and industrial machines such as tractors and diggers, have a greater tolerance to ash, however, additional protective measures will be required for these to continue operating in ashfall conditions.
- Crops and plants are damaged by volcanic ash which may contain volatile, highly toxic components such as fluorine, hydrogen sulphide and sulphur dioxide. Advice should be sought before consuming food that may have been affected by volcanic deposits.
- A year supply ofstockpiled foodmay be overkill for most survival situations short of an apocalyptic event (i.e. TEOTWAWKI). However, if it helps you sleep better at night knowing you have a year’s worth of food stock on the premises, what’s that investment worth to you?
- Volcanic gases can have severe effects on plants from wilting outer leaves to killing. Trees laden with ash could collapse or be stripped of their upper and outer limbs.
- Tank supplies should be disconnected from house roofs whilst ash fall continues and the tank protected. They can be reconnected once ash fall stops and the roof is cleaned.
- Breathing in small amounts of ash particles infrequently may only cause discomfort rather than pose a health hazard. At higher concentrations, people should avoid ash and fine dust simply by using cloth filters over the mouth and nose.
- People required to work in ash fall should wear protective clothing, masks and goggles to ensure that ash contact with the body is at a minimum. Prolonged exposure can cause severe irritations and inflammation. Gas marks would be required if toxic gases are detected.
- Livestock may require additional feed where the ash fall makes grazing difficult. Water supplied must be checked to ensure it is not harmful. Sheltering of livestock in buildings may be required in heavier ash fall areas. Early evacuation of livestock may also need to be undertaken.
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