Thu, Jun 07, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Guatemala halts rescue operations

AFP and AP, ALOTENANGO and ESCUINTLA, Guatemala

A firefighter carries a dog found in the ash-covered village of San Miguel Los Lotes in Guatemala on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP

Nearly 200 people are missing and at least 75 have been killed since Guatemala’s Fuego Volcano began erupting early on Sunday, officials said on Tuesday.

Seven communities in devastated areas were evacuated as the volcano’s activity increased, with rescue operations halted.

An Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer saw a large plume of ash rise into the sky as frightened people living near the volcano fled with their children and few possessions when fresh flows of super-heated debris were announced, taking no chances after authorities gave them little time to evacuate before Sunday’s eruption.

Traffic came to a standstill on choked roads and those without vehicles walked, even in central Escuintla, which was not under an evacuation order.

Mirna Priz, who sells tamales and chiles rellenos, wept as she sat on a rock at a crossroads, with a suitcase in front of her and her 11-year-old son, Allen, and their terrier mix Cara Sucia by her side.

“You feel powerless,” she said. “I don’t know where I’m going to go. To leave my things, everything I have.”

However, after seeing what happened on Sunday, she was afraid to stay.

A total of 192 people remain missing since the deadly eruption, Guatemalan National Disaster Coordinator Sergio Cabanas told reporters on Tuesday.

The search for bodies in mountain villages destroyed by the eruption was progressing slowly, officials said, given the nature of the terrain and the way the volcano released large amounts of boiling mud, rock and ash down the mountain.

“We will continue until we find the last victim, though we do not know how many there are. We will probe the area as many times as necessary,” Cabanas said.

A spokesman for Guatemala’s firefighters said that once it reaches 72 hours after the eruption, there will be little chance of finding anyone alive.

“If you are trapped in a pyroclastic flow, it’s hard to come out of it alive,” Cabanas said, adding that people who had been caught in the flow might never be found.

Among the latest of the 75 fatalities reported by the National Institute of Forensic Sciences was a 42-year-old woman who died in hospital having lost both legs and an arm in the eruption.

The smoke billowing from the volcano could produce a “curtain” of ash that could reach 6km above sea level, posing a danger to air traffic, Guatemalan National Institute for Seismology, Vulcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology said.

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