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GUATEMALA CITY — An estimated 25 people, including at least three children, were killed and nearly 300 others were injured Sunday in the most violent eruption of Guatemala’s Fuego volcano in more than four decades, officials said.
Volcan de Fuego, whose name means “Volcano of Fire” in Spanish, spewed a 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 lay on the steaming, ashen remnants of a pyroclastic flow as rescuers attended to badly injured victims in the aftermath of the eruption.
It was the 12,346-foot volcano’s second eruption this year.
“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.
CONRED said the number of dead had risen to 25 from an earlier estimate of seven, including a CONRED employee. About 3,100 people have been evacuated from the area.
Officials said that so far, the dead were concentrated in three towns: El Rodeo, Alotenango and San Miguel los Lotes.
“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,” Cabanas said.
Rescue operations were suspended until 5 a.m. (7 a.m. ET) because of dangerous conditions and inclement weather, said Cecilio Chacaj, a spokesman for the municipal firefighters department.
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 Guatemala City’s La Aurora International Airport to shut down its only runway because of volcanic ash and to guarantee passenger and aircraft safety, Guatemala’s civil aviation authority said.
The volcano is about 25 miles southwest of the capital, Guatemala City, and is close to the colonial city of Antigua, which is popular with tourists and is known for its coffee plantations.
Workers and guests were evacuated from La Reunion golf club near Antigua as a black cloud of ash rose from just beyond the club’s limits. The lava river was running on the other side of the volcano.
Officials said the volcanic eruption still presented a danger and could cause more mud and pyroclastic flows.
“Temperatures in the pyroclastic flow can exceed 700 degrees (Celsius), and volcanic ash can rain down on a 15-km (9-mile) radius,” said Eddy Sanchez, director of Guatemala’s seismological, volcanic and meteorological institute. “That could cause more mud flows and nearby rivers to burst their banks.”