Guatemala’s powerful Fuego volcano erupted on Sunday, killing at least 25 people and injuring around 300 others.
Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales declared three days of national mourning in the aftermath of the eruption.
More than 1.7 million people have been affected by the eruption as lava flows towards the capital, Guatemala City. As of Monday morning, volcanic activity had subsided, according to Guatemala's National Institute of Seismology, Vulcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology.
Fuego erupted shortly before noon on Sunday and again, more powerfully, at 6:45 p.m. It shot gas, fire, and ash more than 15,000 feet into the air and spread ash in a nine-mile radius.
Volcano Rescue Workers Rescue workers walk on rooftops in Escuintla, Guatemala, blanketed with heavy ash spewed by the Volcan de Fuego, or “Volcano of Fire,” pictured in the background, left center. A fiery volcanic eruption in south-central Guatemala sent lava flowing into rural communities, killing at least 25 as rescuers struggled to reach people where homes and roads were charred and blanketed with ash. | Credit: Luis Soto/AP/REX/Shutterstock
“The new eruption has generated a fast-moving current of hot gas and volcanic matter in the direction of the city,” the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala said in an alert. The volcano is located less than 30 miles from Guatemala City.
More than 3,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes as a river of pyroclastic flow — a fast-moving mix of hot gas and volcanic matter — burst through homes, roads, and villages.
Volcano in Escuintla, Guatemala View of the damage casued by the eruption of the Fuego Volcano in San Miguel Los Lotes, a village in Escuintla Department, about 35 km southwest of Guatemala City, on June 4, 2018. – At least 25 people were killed, according to the National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction (Conred), when Guatemala’s Fuego volcano erupted Sunday, belching ash and rock and forcing the airport to close. | Credit: JOHAN ORDONEZ/Getty Images
"The only thing we could do was run with my family and we left our possessions in the house,” local resident Ricardo Reyes told the BBC. “Now that all the danger has passed, I came to see how our house was – everything is a disaster."
The agency warned that residents should be on alert for new eruptions, the spread of volcanic ash, and mudslides with volcanic material.
Flights to and from Guatemala City’s La Aurora airport were canceled, leaving thousands of travelers stranded. The airport reopened for private flights on Monday morning. United Airlines will allow travelers to change flights affected by the eruption.
Volcan de Fuego is located near Antigua, a city popular with tourists for its 16th-century buildings and monuments. CONRED, the government agency for natural disasters, says that “tourists should not attempt to hike the volcano.”
This is the second time in 2018 that Fuego, one of Latin America’s most active volcanoes, has erupted. It is the deadliest eruption in Guatemala since 1902, when the Santa Maria volcano killed at least 5,000 people. Fuego’s last major eruption was in 1974. It ruined nearby farmland but did not cause any recorded deaths.
Guatemala is located in the “ring of fire,” a region in the Pacific known for its highly volcanic and seismic activity. The ring of fire stretches along the border of the ocean, from the western end of the Americas to the Philippines.
A chain of more than 30 volcanoes makes up Guatemala’s part of the ring of fire, although only two others are active.
Despite high-profile reports of recent volcano explosions (including Hawaii’s Kilauea and Indonesia’s Mount Merapi), scientists insist the events are not linked.
“The eruptions are not in any way connected,” Karen Fontijn, a volcanologist at Oxford University, told Time. “All these volcanoes are frequently erupting, and their behavior is totally normal. At any point in time there will typically be about 10-20 volcanoes in eruption around the world, we just don’t always hear about them.”