Guatemala’s Volcano of Fire: Lava flows prompt new evacuations

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Dangerous flows of lava and toxic gases poured down several canyons below the crater of Guatemala’s Fuego volcano on Friday, prompting a new round of evacuations of rescue workers and nearby villages.

The death toll from Fuego’s most violent eruption in four decades has been gradually rising and now stands at 109, in a series of eruptions that began with a massive blast on Sunday and since then have showered ash over a vast area.

“The (flows) carry hot vapor, including fine particles similar to cement, two- to three-meter diameter rocks and tree trunks dragged out by the current,” Guatemala’s volcanic institute said.

Search and rescue efforts were formally suspended on Thursday due to hazardous conditions, though authorities said they could resume if the situation improves. 

Firefighters said the chance of finding anyone alive amid the still-steaming terrain was practically nonexistent 72 hours after the volcanic explosion.

“Nobody is going to be able to get them out or say how many are buried here,” Efrain Suarez said, standing amid the smoking holes dotting what used to be the village of San Miguel Los Lotes on the flanks of the mountain.

“The bodies are already charred,” the 59-year-old truck driver said. “And if heavy machinery comes in they will be torn apart.” 

The United States announced on Thursday it was sending emergency aid, including financial resources, to help meet food, water and sanitation needs.

Mexico said it was sending a team of burn specialists, while Chile said it would send equipment to provide an early warning of volcanic eruptions.

A team of Cuban doctors resident in Guatemala were providing support in shelters for the displaced.

Once a verdant collection of canyons, hillsides and farms, the land is now a barren moonscape.

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