By Sofia Menchu
SAN MIGUEL LOS LOTES, Guatemala (Reuters) – Rescuers scoured a lava and ash ravaged landscape in Guatemala for a third straight day on Wednesday in search of survivors and victims of Fuego volcano’s calamitous eruption, which has left an estimated 85 people dead and some 200 missing.
Volcan de Fuego, which means “Volcano of Fire,” exploded violently on Sunday, shooting thick plumes of ash miles into the sky that rained down on residents and sending superheated pyroclastic and lava flows barreling through nearby towns.
A thick layer of still smoldering ash and volcanic rock blanketed the tiny hamlet of San Miguel Los Lotes, with only the roofs of some homes sticking out.
Guatemala’s seismological, volcanic and meteorological institute Insivumeh heightened its warnings after the volcano erupted again on Tuesday, forcing evacuations and sending rescue workers scrambling for cover.
But by Wednesday morning, rescuer workers were back at it with pickaxes, metal rods and flashlights in hand, risking their own lives in search of victims or a miracle survivor. Bulldozers stood by to help.
“We can only work in places where we can stand on the roofs of houses … because the ash is very hot. There are places where you stick the pickaxe or rod in and we see a lot of smoke coming out and fire and it’s impossible to keep digging because we could die,” said 25-year-old rescuer Diego Lorenzana.
Elsewhere, rescuers plunged metal rods into the quickly hardening ash that sat atop what was previously a roadway in a desperate search for trapped vehicles, a video by local TV station Televisiete showed.
The extent of the devastation was widespread.
Cecilio Chacaj, a spokesman for the municipal firefighters department, said the bodies of another nine victims have been recovered on Wednesday.
An elderly man, who was featured in a video shortly after the eruption that showed him in a state of shock, caked from head to toe in ash and mud, died from the severe burns he suffered.
That brings to 85 the number of dead.
Guatemala’s national disaster management agency, CONRED, said 1.7 million people have been affected by the volcanic eruption, Fuego volcano’s biggest in four decades, and over 12,000 have been evacuated.
Volunteers were also distributing humanitarian aid, including clean drinking water, to victims.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said they have released more than 250,000 Swiss francs ($253,446) from its global emergency fund to support frontline emergency efforts.
These funds will help “Guatemala Red Cross support 3,000 of the most vulnerable survivors for three months,” they added.
The 3,763-meter (12,346-feet) Fuego Volcano is one of several active volcanoes among 34 in the Central American country. It lies near the colonial city of Antigua, a UNESCO world heritage site that has survived several major eruptions.
(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)