Rescue Workers Struggle as Guatemala ‘Fire’ Volcano Spews Hot Mud Flow

EL RODEO, Guatemala (Reuters) -
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Aftermath of the volcano eruption in Escuintla, Guatemala. (MINGOB/PNC/via Reuters)

Rescue workers struggled in perilous conditions to find bodies under rivers of ash and mud that swept down from Guatemala’s Fuego volcano on Monday, as the number of fatalities from an eruption that partially buried buildings rose to 62.

Structures and trees at the base of the Fuego volcano were completely coated in brown and gray. A policeman wearing a blue surgical mask stumbled in the muck as he ran from a cloud of ash pouring down the slope behind him, Reuters photos showed.

The eruption of Fuego — Spanish for “fire” — on Sunday was the biggest in more than four decades, forcing the closure of Guatemala’s main international airport and dumping ash on thousands of acres  of coffee farms on the volcano’s slopes.

Fanuel Garcia, the director of Guatemala’s National Institute of Forensic Science, says that 62 bodies have been recovered following the eruption.

The task of pulling out bodies was halting, after the new eruption and an apparent landslide on the southern slopes of Fuego triggered fresh evacuations.

“They gave the emergency order to evacuate, and we all went running,” one rescue volunteer said on TV. “We were pulling out bodies. We’re going to wait a half-hour before entering again.”

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(MINGOB/PNC/via Reuters)

A Reuters witness near the volcano said more people had been evacuated beyond a five-mile perimeter from the site after the latest explosion.

Fuego, one of several active volcanoes out of 34 in the Central American country, is near the colonial city of Antigua, a UNESCO world heritage site that has survived several volcanic eruptions. The latest activity is mostly on the far side of the volcano, facing the Pacific coast.

Around 300 people have been injured since the eruption on Sunday that sent columns of ash and smoke 6.2 miles into the sky, dusting several regions with ash.

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A police officer stumbles while running away from a new pyroclastic flow spewed by the Fuego volcano in the community of San Miguel Los Lotes in Escuintla, Guatemala, Monday. (Reuters/Luis Echeverria)

Guatemala’s national disaster agency, CONRED, shared a photo showing the flows of gas and mud sweeping down a mountainside and across a broad valley, engulfing a small village.

“The landscape on the volcano is totally changed, everything is totally destroyed,” government volcanologist Gustavo Chigna said on local radio.

The agency also launched an online registry of missing people.

The eruption showered sand and ash on coffee plants across as much as 6,890 acres, including close to the volcano’s cone, causing an estimated loss of 0.91 percent of Guatemala’s coffee production, the country’s national coffee association said.

In some areas, rain rinsed ash off the leaves, and the full extent of the damage was not yet clear, the association said.