By Sofia Menchu
GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – At least seven people, including three children, were killed and nearly 300 injured on Sunday in the most violent eruption of Guatemala’s Fuego volcano in over four decades, officials said.
Fuego volcano, whose name means “fire” in English, spewed an 8-kilometer (5-mile) stream of red hot lava and belched a thick plume of black smoke and ash that rained onto the capital and other regions.
The charred bodies of victims laid on the steaming, ashen remnants of a pyroclastic flow as rescuers attended to badly injured victims.
“It’s a river of lava that overflowed its banks and affected the El Rodeo village. There are injured, burned and dead people,” Sergio Cabanas, the general secretary of Guatemala’s CONRED national disaster management agency, said on radio.
“We have 7 confirmed dead, 4 adults and 3 kids, who were already taken to the morgue,” said Mario Cruz, spokesman for the volunteer firefighter corps.
Cabanas said one of those killed was a CONRED employee. He added that 3,100 people had evacuated the area so far.
Dozens of videos were popping up on social media and local TV, depicting the extent of devastation.
One video published by news outlet Telediario purportedly taken in the El Rodeo village showed three bodies strewn atop a lava flow, as rescuers arrived to attend to an elderly man caked from head to toe in ash and mud.
“Unfortunately El Rodeo was buried and we haven’t been able to reach the La Libertad village because of the lava and maybe there are people that died there too,” said CONRED’s Cabanas.
In another video, a visibly exhausted woman said she had narrowly escaped as lava poured through corn fields.
“Not everyone escaped, I think they were buried,” Consuelo Hernandez told local news outlet Diario de Centroamerica in a video.
Steaming lava flowed down the streets of a village as emergency crews entered homes in search of trapped residents, another video on a different local media outlet showed.
President Jimmy Morales said he had convened his ministers and was considering declaring a state of emergency in the departments of Chimaltenango, Escuintla and Sacatepequez.
The eruption forced the Guatemala City’s La Aurora international airport to shut down its only runway due to the presence of volcanic ash and to guarantee passenger and aircraft safety, Guatemala’s civil aviation authority said in a Tweet.
The volcano is located some 25 miles (40 km) southwest of the capital Guatemala City and is close to the colonial city of Antigua, popular with tourists and known for its coffee plantations.
Workers and guests were evacuated from the La Reunion golf club near Antigua. Video footage showed a black cloud of ash rising from just beyond the golf club. The lava river was running on the other side of the volcano.
The huge plumes of smoke that could be seen from various parts of the country and the ash that fell in four of Guatemala’s departments caused alarm among residents.
“Temperatures in the pyroclastic flow can exceed 700 degrees (Celsius) and volcanic ash can rain down on a 15 kilometer (9.32 miles) radius. That could cause more mud flows and nearby rivers to burst their banks,” said Eddy Sanchez, director of Guatemala’s seismological, volcanic and meteorological institute.
David de Leon, a CONRED spokesman, said a change in wind was to blame for the volcanic ash falling on parts of the capital.
(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Sandra Maler)