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192 missing in Guatemala’s Fuego volcano disaster

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Authorities in Guatemala say that the death toll from Sunday’s devastating volcano eruption has climbed to 75 and nearly 200 people remain missing.

The national disaster agency, CONRED, said on Tuesday that 192 people are missing in violent eruption of Fuego volcano in more than four decades.

The seismological, volcanic and meteorological institute, Insivumeh, heightened its warnings after the volcano erupted again earlier on Tuesday, forcing evacuations and sending rescue workers scrambling for cover.

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

Volcan de Fuego, or Volcano of Fire, spewed an 10km-long stream of red-hot lava and shot out a thick plume of black smoke and ash on Sunday that rained down onto several regions and the capital, Guatemala City, 30km away from the hardest-hit area.

Here are the latest updates:

Wednesday, June 6
A total of 192 people remain missing since the weekend eruptions, disaster relief agency chief Sergio Cabanas told reporters.
Seven communities in already devastated areas were evacuated as the volcano’s activity increased, with rescue operations halted.

“The conditions are extremely critical at this moment,” Insivumeh Director Eddy Sánchez told reporters.
The search for bodies in mountain villages destroyed by the eruption was progressing slowly, officials said earlier, given the nature of the terrain and the way the volcano released large amounts of boiling mud, rock and ash down the mountain.

Tuesday, June 5
Guatemala’s disaster agency reported that superhot volcanic material is once again flowing down the south side of the volcano. The agency ordered new evacuations from areas around it.

Rescue workers pulled more bodies from under the ash and rubble, bringing the death toll to at least 70. But officials said just 17 had been identified so far because the intense heat of the volcanic debris flows left most bodies unrecognisable.
As dawn broke, the volcano continued to rattle with what the country’s volcanology institute said were eight to 10 moderate eruptions per hour – significantly less intense than Sunday’s big blasts.

But the head of Guatemala’s National Institute of Seismology, Eddy Sanchez, said the worst of the volcanic activity appears to be over.

“It is evident that the volcano’s energy has decreased and its tendency is to continue decreasing. No eruption is imminent in the coming days,” the Republica newspaper quoted him as saying.
The grim recovery effort continued on Tuesday. Using shovels and backhoes, emergency workers dug through the debris and mud, perilous labour on smouldering terrain still hot enough to melt the soles of shoes.

Bodies were so thickly coated with ash that they looked like statues. Rescuers used sledgehammers to break through the roofs of houses buried in debris up to their rooflines to check for anyone trapped inside.

In the village of San Miguel Los Lotes, evidence of destruction was everywhere.

“Access is very difficult, and it’s really hot in the places where we’re trying to dig bodies out of the ash. The deeper you dig, the more intense the heat,” Enrique Morales, a rescue worker, told Al Jazeera.

“This is the epicentre of the slide, and it’s the focus of the rescue efforts right now,” said Al Jazeera’s David Mercer, reporting from the scene.

“Rescue workers are pouring out across this area, going into houses and pulling out bodies. In just 15 minutes we’ve seen four bodies pulled out. There’s not a lot of hope for survivors.”
President Jimmy Morales declared three days of national mourning for the “irreparable losses”.

Monday, June 4
The number of fatalities from a massive volcano eruption rose to 62 on Monday. Only 13 of the dead have been identified so far, Mirna Zeledon, a spokeswoman for Guatemala’s National Institute of Forensic Sciences, said.

Among the dead were four people, including a disaster agency official, killed when lava set a house on fire in El Rodeo village in southern Guatemala, National Disaster Coordinator Sergio Cabanas said. Two children were burned to death as they watched the volcano’s second eruption this year from a bridge.

A deadly pyroclastic flow – which can travel down a mountain at speeds of more than 100km/hr – shot from the volcano and is likely the cause of most deaths, volcanologist David Rothery told Al Jazeera.

A hot flow of mud, ash and gas swept down from Fuego after a new blast on Monday morning that interrupted disaster workers pulling bodies from the brown sludge that engulfed El Rodeo.

Survivor Hilda Lopez said the volcanic mud swept into her village of San Miguel Los Lotes, just below the mountain’s flanks, and she didn’t know where her mother and sister were.

“We were at a party, celebrating the birth of a baby when one of the neighbours shouted at us to come out and see the lava that was coming. We didn’t believe it, and when we went out the hot mud was already coming down the street. My mother was stuck there, she couldn’t get out,” said Lopez, weeping and holding her face in her hands.

Three shelters were housing about 650 people, Marcia Martinez from the disaster relief agency told Al Jazeera.

“There is this volcano dust everywhere… There are a lot of people here trying to recover bodies or searching for the missing,” said Al Jazeera’s David Mercer, reporting from the scene.

Rescuers were using heavy machinery and shovels to find victims. Disaster agency chief Sergio Cabanas said helicopters rescued 10 people from areas hit by thick ash, mud or lava.

The Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales declared a state of emergency in the states of Chimaltenango, Sacatepequez and Escuintla.

According to volcanologist Eddy Sanchez, the volcano’s temperatures reached 700 degrees Celsius.

Guatemala City’s international airport re-opened after it was closed by falling ash from the eruption of the volcano to the west. Fuego is one of Central America’s most active volcanos. It was the second eruption this year and the biggest in decades.

[source: Al Jazeera]
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