The death toll from the explosive eruption of Guatemala’s Fuego volcano has risen to 109 with at least 197 people still missing.
Search-and-rescue efforts were suspended on Thursday because of the continued presence of scorching volcanic material and poor weather conditions, Guatemala’s national disaster agency said.
“It rained very hard yesterday … The soil is unstable,” said Pablo Castillo, a spokesman for the national police.
Volcan de Fuego, in southern Guatemala, began spewing streams of red-hot lava and shooting out thick smoke and ash on Sunday that rained down onto several regions and the capital, Guatemala City, 30km away from the hardest-hit area.
The 3,763-metre high Fuego Volcano is one of several active among 34 in the Central American country. It lies near the colonial city of Antigua, a UNESCO world heritage site, which has survived several major eruptions previously.
Latest updates as of Friday, June 8.
Dangerous flows of lava, ash and toxic gases have poured down several canyons below the crater of Guatemala’s Fuego volcano, prompting a new round of evacuations of rescue workers and nearby villages.
In two of the canyons where flows have accumulated, columns of ash rose as high as 6,000 meters, according to a statement by Guatemala’s volcanic institute.
The seismological, volcanic and meteorological institute Insivumeh advised the civil aviation authority to take precautions with flights amid renewed activity from the peak, which produced a massive eruption on Sunday.
Guatemalan officials warned of falling ash from the Fuego volcano late on Thursday and urged caution with flights as the Central American country recovers from the recent devastating eruptions.
Guatemala prosecutors ordered investigation into whether disaster protocols were followed in the deadly volcanic eruption. A statement from the Public Ministry said the probe will seek to establish whether “the necessary protocols were activated that would allow for prudent and timely decisions”.
Disaster officials began monitoring increased activity at the Volcano of Fire on Sunday morning, but initially said no evacuations were necessary. A new, more powerful explosion in the afternoon prompted an evacuation order. But fast-moving flows of superheated material and debris washed over villages before many people had time to flee.
Due to dangerous conditions, Guatemala’s national disaster agency suspended search-and-rescue efforts at the hardest hit areas.
The agency suspended the search now that 72 hours have passed. That’s the length of time officials had said some victims might have survived. It urged people to stay away from the area.
The hope of finding survivors alive – or even being able to identify bodies – was fading fast. Only 28 of the 99 killed have been identified so far.
Villager Efrain Suarez stood amid smoking holes dotting what used to be the village of San Miguel Los Lotes on the flanks of the mountain. “Nobody is going to be able to get them out or say how many are buried here,” he said. “The bodies are already charred and if heavy machinery comes in they will be torn apart.”
The country’s seismology and volcanology institute warned of new flows descending through canyons on the volcano’s western slope towards the Pantaleon River, carrying boulders and uprooted tree trunks.
Some residents took matters into their own hands. Oscar Chavez trekked over a mountain with his father and younger brother. They’re searching for his brother Edgar, sister-in-law Sandra, and nephew Josue. Nobody has seen them since Sunday’s eruption. Wiping a tear from his eye, Chavez said they searched shelters, hospitals, everywhere – to no avail.
Nohemi Ascon, 41, is the aunt of six children between the ages of one and eight who died in Los Lotes. A photograph taken shortly after the disaster showed their bodies huddled together on a bed in the corner of a room, covered in white ash and blood. Ascon said other family members were still unaccounted for.
Nobody is going to be able to get them out ... the bodies are already charred
The United States announced it was sending emergency aid, including financial resources, to help meet food, water and sanitation needs.
A US Air Force C-17 carried six Guatemalan children who were badly burned to Texas for treatment. The US embassy in Guatemala said the children will be treated at the Shriner’s Hospital in Galveston.
The International Federation of Red Cross said it would release more than $253,000 from its global emergency help to support frontline emergency efforts.
Rocca noted ash had fallen across more than half of Guatemala, covering areas where agriculture is crucial. “We hope it will not mean a secondary disaster,” he said.
President Jimmy Morales has been criticised on social media for failing to quickly respond to offers of international aid.
New explosions boomed from Guatemala’s Fuego volcano, generating a 4,700-metre high column of gray ash and unleashing torrents of molten mud and ash.
“The explosions are generating moderate avalanches that have an approximate distance of 800 to 1,000 metres and on their trajectory they are carrying fine material to a height of around 100 metres,” the Volcanology Institute said.
Al Jazeera’s David Mercer, reporting from the scene, said emergency workers were facing a lot of obstacles. “Authorities will have to make a decision on whether they keep looking for bodies, or whether they decide to stop the search and declare this town as a massive cemetery.”
on … keep looking for bodies, or … stop the search”]
“I trust in Guatemala, in our institutions,” Morales said at a press conference. “The world is watching us and wants to help us. I want to thank everyone for that help and join us. This adversity will make us stronger.”
This adversity will make us stronger
Seven communities in already devastated areas were evacuated as the volcano’s activity increased, with rescue operations halted.
The search for bodies in mountain villages destroyed by the eruption was progressing slowly, officials said earlier, given the nature of the terrain and the way the volcano released large amounts of boiling mud, rock and ash down the mountain.
Guatemala’s disaster agency reported that superhot volcanic material is once again flowing down the south side of the volcano. The agency ordered new evacuations from areas around it.
As dawn broke, the volcano continued to rattle with what the country’s volcanology institute said were eight to 10 moderate eruptions per hour – significantly less intense than Sunday’s big blasts.
But the head of Guatemala’s National Institute of Seismology, Eddy Sanchez, said the worst of the volcanic activity appears to be over.
“It is evident that the volcano’s energy has decreased and its tendency is to continue decreasing. No eruption is imminent in the coming days,” the Republica newspaper quoted him as saying.
The grim recovery effort continued on Tuesday. Using shovels and backhoes, emergency workers dug through the debris and mud, perilous labour on smouldering terrain still hot enough to melt the soles of shoes.
Bodies were so thickly coated with ash that they looked like statues. Rescuers used sledgehammers to break through the roofs of houses buried in debris up to their rooflines to check for anyone trapped inside.
In the village of San Miguel Los Lotes, evidence of destruction was everywhere.
“Access is very difficult, and it’s really hot in the places where we’re trying to dig bodies out of the ash. The deeper you dig, the more intense the heat,” Enrique Morales, a rescue worker, told Al Jazeera.
“This is the epicentre of the slide, and it’s the focus of the rescue efforts right now,” said Al Jazeera’s David Mercer, reporting from the scene.
President Jimmy Morales declared three days of national mourning for the “irreparable losses”.
The number of fatalities from a massive volcano eruption rose to 62 on Monday. Only 13 of the dead have been identified so far, Mirna Zeledon, a spokeswoman for Guatemala’s National Institute of Forensic Sciences, said.
Among the dead were four people, including a disaster agency official, killed when lava set a house on fire in El Rodeo village in southern Guatemala, National Disaster Coordinator Sergio Cabanas said. Two children were burned to death as they watched the volcano’s second eruption this year from a bridge.
A deadly pyroclastic flow – which can travel down a mountain at speeds of more than 100km/hr – shot from the volcano and is likely the cause of most deaths, volcanologist David Rothery told Al Jazeera.
A hot flow of mud, ash and gas swept down from Fuego after a new blast on Monday morning that interrupted disaster workers pulling bodies from the brown sludge that engulfed El Rodeo.
Survivor Hilda Lopez said the volcanic mud swept into her village of San Miguel Los Lotes, just below the mountain’s flanks, and she didn’t know where her mother and sister were.
“We were at a party, celebrating the birth of a baby when one of the neighbours shouted at us to come out and see the lava that was coming. We didn’t believe it, and when we went out the hot mud was already coming down the street. My mother was stuck there, she couldn’t get out,” said Lopez, weeping and holding her face in her hands.
Three shelters were housing about 650 people, Marcia Martinez from the disaster relief agency told Al Jazeera.
“There is this volcano dust everywhere… There are a lot of people here trying to recover bodies or searching for the missing,” said Al Jazeera’s David Mercer, reporting from the scene.
Rescuers were using heavy machinery and shovels to find victims. Disaster agency chief Sergio Cabanas said helicopters rescued 10 people from areas hit by thick ash, mud or lava.
The Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales declared a state of emergency in the states of Chimaltenango, Sacatepequez and Escuintla.
According to volcanologist Eddy Sanchez, the volcano’s temperatures reached 700 degrees Celsius.
Fuego is one of Central America’s most active volcanos. It was the second eruption this year and the biggest in decades.
Translation: National Civil Police continue the search and rescue of people who have been hurt by # VolcanDeFuego in the village El Rodeo in Escuintla. So far they have rescued children and adults. – Guatemalan National Police
#PNCProtegerYServir Elementos de nuestra Policía Nacional Civil continúan en la búsqueda y rescate de personas que han resultado damnificadas por el #VolcánDeFuego en la aldea El Rodeo en Escuintla. Hasta el momento han rescatado a niños y adultos pic.twitter.com/JxOdkl0xih
— PNC Guatemala (@PNCdeGuatemala) June 4, 2018
Guatemalan officials say more than 3,200 people have been evacuated after the volcanic eruption.
“We saw the lava was pouring through the corn fields and we ran towards a hill,” Consuelo Hernandez, a survivor, told Al Jazeera.
#VolcanDeFuego En estos momentos se realiza carga de recursos y asistencia humanitaria para ser trasladados al albergue ubicado en el Instituto Simón Bergaño y Villegas, Escuintla con el fin de ayudar a las personas afectadas por la erupción del volcán de Fuego. pic.twitter.com/fXaNxtQz30
— CONRED (@ConredGuatemala) June 4, 2018
Authorities in Guatemala say 18 more people have been confirmed killed by a volcanic eruption, raising the death toll to 25.
Disaster agency spokesman David de Leon said late Sunday the bodies were found in the community of San Miguel Los Lotes.
Rescuers have struggled to reach rural residents cut off by the eruption, which also wounded at least 20. Authorities have been unable to account for an undetermined number of people and say they fear the death toll could rise.
The Volcan de Fuego, or “volcano of fire,” exploded in a hail of ash and molten rock shortly before noon Sunday, blanketing nearby villages in heavy ash.