At least 25 people were killed when Guatemala’s Fuego volcano erupted Sunday, belching ash and rock and forcing the capital’s main airport to close.
The volcano expelled hot muddy material that caused the deaths — including of several children — in the El Rodeo and Las Lajas communities located on its southern slope, disaster agency spokesman David de Leon said in a WhatsApp group.
Search and rescue operations for the missing and dead have been suspended due to low light and dangerous conditions, and will resume early on Monday morning, he said.
The eruption of the 3,763-meter (12,346-foot) volcano sent ash billowing over the surrounding area, turning plants and trees gray and blanketing streets, cars and people.
Farmers covered in ash fled for their lives as civil defense staffers tried to relocate them to shelters during the event.
National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (Conred) chief Sergio Cabanas said earlier that the eruption also left 20 injured and affected more than 1.7 million people.
President Jimmy Morales announced a red alert for Escuintla, Chimaltenango and Sacatepequez, the areas most affected by the eruption, and an orange alert throughout the country.
The president said he and his government would determine whether to ask Congress to declare a state of emergency in the areas, while at the same time appealing to the population for calm.
Death toll may rise
Hundreds of personnel from the police, Red Cross and military have been dispatched to support emergency operations, Morales said.
Cabanas said that the dead included a civil protection official.
More than 3,000 people were evacuated due to the eruption, which affected rural communities around the volcano as well as Antigua Guatemala, a colonial-era town very popular with tourists in the Central American country, he said.
Cabanas did not rule out the number of dead increasing, as there are “missing persons, but we do not know how many.”
Dense ash blasted out by the volcano shut down Guatemala City’s international airport, civil aviation said.
People were working to clean ash off the runways to get the airport operating again.
The eruption is the second major one this year from the peak, following another that subsided at the beginning of February after sending ash towering 1.7 kilometers into the sky.
A September 2012 eruption of the volcano saw 10,000 people evacuated, while another in February 2015 forced the closure of the capital’s main airport.
Apart from the Fuego volcano, there are two other active volcanos in Guatemala. One of them, Pacaya, is just 20 kilometers from Guatemala City.