Guatemala Eruption Claims 25 Lives


Another volcano has violently erupted, this time in Guatemala.

At least 25 people have already been killed by the eruption of the Fuego volcano which sits only about 25 miles from Guatemala City.

Rock, gas, and ash spewed into the air on Sunday. Experts are also indicating that the volcano is issuing one or more “pyroclastic flows,” a fancy geology term for when a mass of superhot rocks and toxic gasses roll down the slope of the volcano rather than rising in an ash column.

Pyroclastic flows are probably more dangerous than the kind of slow-moving liquid lava engulfing Hawaii. For one thing, they move much faster, sometimes faster than 60 miles per hour. Lava, by contrast, moves pretty slowly even when in its less-viscous forms. What that means is that people can escape a Kilauea situation on foot.

But nobody can outrun an eruption like the one at Volcan de Fuego.

And pyroclastic flow is still extremely hot. Hot enough to glow, like molten lava. The flows can also travel much further than lava can, because they pick up more momentum from rolling down the sides of the associated volcanoes.

Pyroclastic flow is the same phenomenon that destroyed the ancient Roman city of Pompeii.

This latest eruption from Volcan de Fuego is the worst of several over recent weeks. Fast-moving flows swept through villages, killing residents hiding inside their homes and stranding others. Hundreds of people have been injured, many by the superheated ash and the toxic fumes issuing from the volcano. Many people are missing, although only 25 have been confirmed dead as of yet.

Guatemala’s main airport has also been shut down by the event, and president Jimmy Morales declared three days of mourning throughout the nation in a statement on Sunday.

This is probably the worst eruption from Volcan de Fuego, which literally means “Volcano of Fire”, since 1974, when another major eruption destroyed many nearby farms. No deaths were recorded during that eruption however.

Another even in February sent ash pluming more than a mile into the sky. But yesterday’s event was on a far larger scale, as ash plumes reached a height of about 3 miles. The pyroclastic flows issuing from the mountain overcame people fleeing on foot. Entire villages were engulfed.

This is Guatemala’s deadliest volcanic event since 1902, when the Santa Maria volcano erupted. That event killed thousands. Considering that the Fuego volcano is only about thirty miles from Guatemala’s capital, however, this situation could become just as dire.

So far the response by the Guatemalan government has been to carry ash-covered survivors away from the danger zones. Rescuers found that at least one town, El Rodeo, has been totally buried in ash. Other towns were also partly affected and the death toll is expected to rise as rescuers try to reach a number of other villages.

Volcanic ash has already reached Guatemala City, as soldiers have been pictures clearing the runway at the city’s airport. A total of nearly 2 million people have been affected already by the eruption, and officials are advising citizens to wear masks for protection as ash continues to fall from the sky.