New volcano eruption slows search for survivors in Guatemala

World Today

Rescue workers search in one of the hamlets in the disaster area near the Volcan de Fuego, or “Volcano of Fire,” in Escuintla, Guatemala, Tuesday, June 5, 2018. The fiery volcanic eruption in south-central Guatemala killed scores as rescuers struggled to reach people where homes and roads were charred and blanketed with ash. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

It’s name is “Volcano of Fire” but it’s become the volcano of misery in Guatemala. After Sunday’s eruption, super hot gas and ash are continuing to flow. So rescue teams were evacuated from the mountain’s south-east side.

That’s slowing down the search for those buried under volcanic ash in various villages. At least 72 people are confirmed dead from the sudden blast. CGTN’s Harris Whitbeck has more.

As burials began for some of those who died in Sunday’s eruption, tears mingled with a sense of disbelief at the suddenness of the tragedy.

Survivors remember how a deadly cloud filled with burning gas, rocks and sand hurtled down the slopes of Fuego Volcano at a speed of up to 100 kilometers per hour. It hit the village of El Rodeo so quickly those who were caught in it hardly knew what hit them. Victims later found buried under ash, frozen in sudden death.

El Rodeo is one of three villages on the slopes of the volcano that were devastated by Sunday’s eruption. Days after the catastrophe, many still struggled to come to terms with what happened.

“My parents are gone, I was left an orphan. I have my eight brothers but I also lost my mother in law, my sister in law, her brother. The truth is at this point I don’t know if we will ever find them,” said one of the survivors.

Shelters were filled with dazed survivors who were able to flee the killer cloud and those lucky enough to be far from its path. Those who lost family or who believe them still missing congregated at a crowded morgue in the nearby city of Escuintla, hoping that their loved ones are not among the dead.

Sunday morning was like any other in El Rodeo. Residents were used to the volcano’s constant rumbling. Its eruption Saturday night did not cause much concern. At about 1pm on Sunday, they were told by government disaster officials there was nothing to worry about, that they should take shelter in their houses, but nothing else.

Two hours later the deadly cloud roared in, trapping those in its path. “Everything happened in just a split second. We did not know what to do. I was trapped and I thought I would never get out,” explained another survivor.

As rescue efforts continued, questions were being raised about the timeliness of the evacuation orders. Residents say they were told to leave their homes when it was too late.

The government disaster response agency said it was following standard protocol. As the shock of the disaster wear off, some survivors were already demanding answers.

Christina Espinosa on conditions near erupted volcano in Guatemala

For an eye-witness account of the conditions near Guatemala’s volcano eruption, CGTN’s Asieh Namdar spoke with Christina Espinosa, who phoned in from the city of Antigua, northeast of the Volcan de Fuego.