According to a report from a resident of Guatemala City, at least 100 people are feared dead in Guatemala following the most serious volcanic eruption in the Central American republican in more than 100 years. Entire villages near the erupting Fuego volcano have been buried in rocks, volcanic ash and mud cast down upon them. On Sunday, the volcano (the name of which means fire) erupted for more than 16 hours. A gigantic plume of fumes and ash rose in a column above the volcano, disrupting air traffic. 

The Aurora International Airport in Guatemala was shut down as a result, stranding travellers. It has since reopened.

 

Rushing rivers of superheated gas and lava, known as pyroclastic flows, spewed down the slopes of the volcano engulfing whole villages. President Jimmy Morales has called for prayers while declaring three days of mourning for the dead. A town known as El Rodeo was entirely buried. The towns of Alotenango and San Miguel Los Lotes were also affected. Rescue teams are seeking to reach other villages and hamlets in the mountainous areas near the capital city. Ash fell on the former Spanish colonial capital of Central America, Antigua, and also on the modern capital city.

A powerful earthquake struck Guatemala’s Pacific shoreline. However, there were no reports of deaths.  Fuego is located about 25 miles south-west of the capital Guatemala City, and is close to two other giant volcanoes: Acatenango and Agua. Approximately, 3,000 residents have been evacuated and given temporary shelter. 

Some residents fled the affected villages, leaving behind not only their homes and possessions, but also family members. Some people are feared trapped within their dwellings beneath the suffocating ash and volcanic debris. About 1.7 million people have been affected in four regions of Guatemala. Residents are advised to wear masks as protection against volcanic ash.

The last major eruption destroyed farms and residences in 1974. The deadliest such event was in 1902 when the Santa Maria volcano erupted and killed thousands of people. In the mid-1500’s, not long after the conquest of Mexico and Guatemala by Spanish conquistadores, the nearby Agua volcano erupted. In English, the name of the volcano is ‘water,’ and had been given the name because there was a lake within the crater at its summit. When the volcano erupted, one side of the crater broke off and released the water from the lake. The resulting deluge buried the colonial capital and most of its inhabitants in much the same way that ancient Romans were interred by the eruption at Pompeii more than one thousand years before.

Insivumeh -- Guatemala’s institute of volcanology -- warned residents to keep away from ravines and gullies affected because of the possibility of a reactivation of the deadly volcano. There is a risk that lahars (water mixed with volcanic debris) can flood the populated areas to south, south-west and south-east. Yet another danger are pyroclastic flows, which are mixtures of superheated gas and volcanic material such as lava, pumice and ash. These can flow so fast that they catch victims unaware. Their speed depends on several factors, such as the rate at which the volcano produces material and the grade of slope. In some cases, pyroclastic flows can reach output rate of the volcano and the gradient of its slope. They have been known to reach speeds of up to 436 miles per hour: which is about the cruising speed of a long-distance commercial passenger aircraft. The gas and rock within a pyroclastic flow range in temperature from 400F to 1200F.

A police car is engulfed in volcanic ash and debris

When Mount Vesuvius erupted in Italy in 79 AD, it shot forth a pyroclastic flow that buried the Roman towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii under a suffocating blanket of ash and hot volcanic material, killing thousands.


 

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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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