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Guatemala volcano death toll up to 69, expected to rise

(CNTV)    14:05, June 05, 2018

The death toll from a volcanic eruption in Guatemala rose to 69, said officials. Rescue work continues and the number of deaths is expected to rise.

Guatemala's national disaster agency, Conred, increased the death toll as more bodies were pulled from the debris around the village of El Rodeo, which was hard hit by the eruption. Just 17 had been identified so far because the intense heat of the volcanic debris flows left most bodies unrecognizable. 

“It is very difficult for us to identify them because some of the dead lost their features or their fingerprints from the red-hot flows," Fanuel Garcia, director of the National Institute of Forensic Sciences, said. “We are going to have to resort to other methods ... and if possible take DNA samples to identify them.”

Guatemalan authorities say they had been closely monitoring the Volcano of Fire, one of Central America’s most active, after activity picked up around 6:00 a.m. Sunday.

The volcano has registered a number of minor eruptions over the years, and no evacuations were ordered as scientific experts reported the activity was decreasing.

Conred, issued a number of standard precautions, advising people to wear protective face masks, clean their rooftops of ash once the eruption was over and cover any food and water intended for human consumption. It also said to heed any recommendations from authorities. Guatemala City’s international airport was closed due to the danger to planes.

Conred spokesman David de Leon said that around 2:00 p.m. the volcano registered a new, more powerful explosion.

Soon, searing flows of lava, ash and rock mixed with water and debris were gushing down the volcano’s flanks, blocking roads and burning homes.

Authorities scrambled to issue an evacuation order. Some communities emptied out safely. But in places like Los Lotes and the village of El Rodeo, about 12 kilometers downslope from the crater, it was too late for many.

The fast-moving flows overtook people in homes and streets with temperatures reaching as high as 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit (700 Celsius), and hot ash and volcanic gases that can cause rapid asphyxiation.

Rafael Letran, a resident of El Rodeo, criticized Conred for not evacuating communities earlier.

“When the lava was already here they passed by in their pickup trucks yelling at us to leave, but the cars did not stop to pick up the people,” Letran said. “The government is good at stealing, but when it comes to helping people they lack spark.”

De Leon said the disaster agency followed protocol.

“As soon as we received the information around 6:00 a.m. that the volcano was in an eruptive phase, the protocol was initiated to verify with different sectors and also talk to the communities, to community leaders. ... We had the information from our scientific service, and they told us the trend was that the activity was diminishing,” he said.

In El Rodeo on Monday, heavily armed soldiers wearing blue masks to avoid breathing in ash stood guard behind yellow tape cordoning off the disaster scene. Helmeted workers carried bodies away on stretchers, and smoke was still rising from some parts of the ashen landscape strewn with boulders and other debris.

President Jimmy Morales traveled to survey the disaster area.

Emergency crews in helicopters managed to pull at least 10 people alive from areas cut off by the flows. Conred said 3,271 people had been evacuated.

More than 1,000 people were being housed in temporary shelters and over 1.7 million have been affected.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Web editor: Xu JiaWei, Liang Jun)

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