Guatemala’s Fuego volcano, or Volcan de Fuego, one of the most active volcanoes in Central America, erupted just before noon on Sunday, killing at least 33 people in neighboring villages, with hundreds more displaced, BBC reports.
The country’s most violent volcanic eruption in over a century sent lava streaming across people’s homes, burying them in molten rock and ash. Located only 25 miles southwest of the capital Guatemala City, Fuego volcano’s explosiveness sent the government scampering for cover, with President Jimmy Morales announcing three days of national mourning for the “deep pain” and “irreparable loss” of human lives.
Disaster management agencies in Guatemala said an undefined number of people are still missing and fear that the death toll could rise significantly. The eruption continued unabated for an extraordinary period of time, clocking over 16.5 hours from the time when molten rock, gas, and ash first shot several meters into the air.
Pyroclastic flows, which are fast-moving mixtures of gas and volcanic matter, started to make their way down the mountainside hours later, engulfing villages en masse. Hundreds of police officers, soldiers, and workers were dispatched soon after the news first broke but had to wait until Monday because the temperature rose to over 1,300 degrees in the neighboring towns and villages. When they finally made inroads, charred bodies and steamed villages lay waiting for them. Several bodies are believed to have been carried away with the pyroclastic flow.
The town of El Rodeo is believed to be completely “buried,” while the towns of Alotenango and San Miguel los Lotes are also severely affected.
Residents told media organizations that they ran for cover in the hills after the eruption, leaving their homes and families buried behind. Consuelo Hernandez, a resident El Rodeo, told the newspaper Diario de Centroamerica (via CBS) that he could not even make sure that his family remained safe.
“Not everyone was able to get out. I think they ended up buried,” he said.
The same fate befell other residents as well, including Ricardo Reyes.
“The only thing we could do was run with my family and we left our possessions in the house. Now that all the danger has passed, I came to see how our house was – everything is a disaster.”
More than 10 percent of Guatemala’s total population, which stands at around 1.7 million, has been affected by the Fuego volcano eruption. At least 3,100 people have already been evacuated, Guatemala’s disaster agency said, with local authorities working hard to provide temporary shelters to the victims.