GUATEMALA CITY (CBSNEWS/AP) – One of Central America’s most active volcanos erupted in fiery explosions of ash and molten rock Sunday. At least seven people were killed and 20 injured as a towering cloud of smoke blanketed nearby villages in heavy ash. An undetermined number were missing and authorities fear the death toll could rise.
Guatemala’s Volcan de Fuego, Spanish for “volcano of fire,” exploded shortly before noon, and later in the afternoon lava began flowing down the side of the mountain. Eddy Sanchez, director of the country’s seismology and volcanology institute, said the flows reached temperatures of about 1,300 degrees.
Video images published by Sacatepezuez television showed a charred landscape where a lava flow came into contact with homes. Three bodies lay partially buried in ash-colored debris from the Volcan de Fuego, Spanish for “volcano of fire,” about 27 miles from Guatemala City.
Other videos from local media showed residents walking barefoot and covered in muddy residue.
“Not everyone was able to get out. I think they ended up buried,” Consuelo Hernandez, a resident of the village of El Rodeo, told the newspaper Diario de Centroamerica.
“Where we saw the lava fall, we ran to a hillside” to escape, she added.
Hundreds of rescue workers, including firefighters, police and soldiers worked to recover bodies from the still-smoking lava.
National Disaster Coordinator Sergio Cabanas said seven people were confirmed dead and an unknown number were unaccounted for.
Among the fatalities were four people, including a disaster agency official, killed when lava set a house on fire in El Rodeo village, Cabanas said. Two children were burned to death as they watched the volcano’s second eruption this year from a bridge, he added.
Another victim was found in the streets of El Rodeo by volunteer firefighters, but the person died in an ambulance.
Guatemala’s disaster agency said 3,100 people had evacuated nearby communities, and the eruption was affecting an area with a population of about 1.7 million people. Shelters were opened for those forced to flee.